Slide #222

TITLE: 'Aj'ib al-makhluquat [The Marvels of Created Things]
13th century
Zakariya Ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (1203-1283)
This map was found in a manuscript measuring 35.6 X 22.9 cm, with 230 paper leaves, richly illuminated title-pages, and numerous miniatures. On fols. 52vo-53r is a double-page circular world map with a diameter of 30.5 cm. The map depicts the Islamic world, centering upon the Indian Ocean. As in most Moslem maps, the South is placed at the top. The Indian Ocean is represented as enclosed by an eastern extension of Africa, a notion descended from Ptolemy. Near the irregular and misunderstood peninsula of India clusters a group of islands. The circular bulge represents Arabia with the twin rivers of Mesopotamia nearby illustrating a non-existent connection between the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. This latter sea is much constricted and distorted. It tapers sharply toward the west, where it is inscribed, Gulf of the West. The eastern reach of the Mediterranean is labeled Sea of Egypt, and into it flows the great Nile with its many-branched sources.

The map is rendered entirely in silver and gold colors, achieving a splendid decorative effect. It is possible that this reflects some prototype made upon a plaque of silver, of which several renown Moslem examples have been recorded by medieval historians. The gold ribbons may designate the borders of the Moslem world. The red parallel lines represent the seven climatic zones, about which Al-Qazvini has a great deal to say.

The author al-Qazwini [Qazvini], sometimes called the 'Moslem Pliny', was a Persian encyclopedist who composed in Arabic, two treatises, a cosmography, Kitab 'aja'ib al-makhluqat wa-ghara'ib al-mawjudat [Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing], and a geography, Athar al-bilad [Monuments of the lands]. The influence of his texts on later geographical writers was considerable. The maps appear in copies of both works. The former work deals with the subjects of planets, stars, angels, the elements, minerals, plants, and animals. As in the case of the encyclopedias of medieval Europe, the work is a compilation of the superficial knowledge of the day, without much attempt to interpret or integrate it with contemporary data. However, its influence was still far-reaching, and it was quoted, paraphrased and translated for centuries. The illustrations, likewise, were handed down in traditional form. Transliterations of al-Qazwlnl's version can also be found in Miller, Mappae arabicae, Band 5,129-30 (Bild 6 and 7) (note 7).

Another map is found also in a manuscript of al-Qazwini's 'Aja'ib al-makhluqat. It is dated on internal evidence to the early 17th century, although as a writer al-Qazwlm (died 1283) is considerably earlier than al-Harrani (fl. 1330, Slide #214.4 ) or Ibn al-Wardi (died 1457, Slide #214.1 ). It is difficult to know whether this al-Qazwlnl map is the forerunner of the Ibn al-Wardi map or a less formal version developed at a later date. All three authors were cosmological writers whose works were popular right into the Ottoman period and in India. The map from al-Qazwini's work has a flowing Nile instead of a rectangular one and a rather formless Mediterranean, though much of the rest has the geometrical stiffness of the true Ibn al-Wardl maps.

Most of the manuscripts of al-Qazwml's 'Aja'ib al-makhluqat have a completely different map of the world. This is the third type of world map represents al-Biruni's sketch map of the distribution of land and sea (Slide #214.3). In al-Qazwlm's texts this map tends to become stylized. The south coast of the land is stretched across the middle of the world circle and consists of a series of roughly parallel peninsulas separated by symmetrical bays. These peninsulas are China, India, Arabia, and Africa. The northern coast of the landmass follows the circle around, leaving a series of indentations where Europe and the Mediterranean are expected. The Nile appears as a wide channel dividing Africa in two, and this may be the origin of the double peninsula for southern Africa that appears in some later maps. Finally, the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea appear as two "bubbles" in the middle of the land.

Walters Art Gallery, fols. 52vo-53r
Forschungs-bibliothek, Gotha, MS. Orient A. 1507, fols. 95b-96a
Boleian Library, MS. Pococke 350, fol. 73v, Oxford


*Brown, L.A., The World Encompassed, no. 18, plate IV.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Vol. Two, pp. 138, 143-44, 53, 59-60, Plate 9 (color).
*Miller, K., Mappae arabicae, Band 5,129-30 (Bild 6 and 7) (note 7).
Sarton, An Introduction to the History of Science, volume II, plate 2, pp. 727-728, 868-870.


Index of Early Medieval Maps