Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Modern Map

Marco Polo: Medieval Map

 

There are many obvious differences between the two maps. One visually striking difference is how much closer the points appear to be in the Medieval Map. I had a difficult time finding a portolan map that could incorporate Marco Polo’s expansive route from the Middle East to Asia. As is noticeable, the points appear to be shorter distances and are more scrunched together. In routing Marco Polo’s points of travel, I often found myself having to redo the placement of Marco Polo’s locations. I finally realized that the Medieval Map was far smaller in comparison to my modern map so my points were going to have to be much closer together than I expected. The hardest points to map were the Middle Eastern locations. The portolan map is missing some Middle Eastern countries making the Middle East much smaller. I was able to find where to place these points but I had to move the points closer together. Additionally, China appears to be much smaller in comparison to India. One reason this is so is that the portolan map’ was originally made for traveling traders, so its sole purpose was to provide detailed routes along the coastlines of these countries. Because of this, the mapping of the inside of these countries was not as much of a priority as the coastline of the Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Upon looking at this map, Marco Polo would have likely used the portolan map as a way to navigate by sea and understand where he was in reference to the traveling ports. The visual descriptions of the land within the Middle East and Asia were not correct representations, so this kind of map would not have aided in his journeys by land. Ultimately, in The Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo expressed his knowledge about the traveling ports and his physical location to these ports showing further evidence of how he would have used the portolan map.

Marco Polo: Modern Map

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Fabri GIS Map

The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Medieval Travel Map

The hardest part about mapping the section of Fabri’s journey I chose on a medieval map is that his journey, in comparison to the Psalter world map as a whole, only occupies a very small geographic area. Within that limited space, the geographical details included on the Psalter world map only vaguely match up with the descriptions Fabri gives in his account, which are fairly accurate to the modern map and the actual geographies he traveled through.

It was easiest to plot Mestre, Italy and Venice, Italy on the medieval map because Italy is still drawn as a peninsula, albeit very circular and consisting mostly just of Rome. Venice is along the northeast coast of Italy, and Mestre a bit inland from Venice, so their relative locations on the medieval map were the most straightforward.

Plotting the locations in the Alps Mountains was complicated because it’s not made clear which mountain range is which on the Psalter world map, so I just had to make an educated guess based on the location of Greece and the assumption that the Dinaric Alps were included on the map. Within the range that I assumed to be the Alps, there wasn’t much space to plot the multiple stops Fabri made while journeying through them, which is both a function of the scale of the map and of the lower importance placed on that part of the world. Generally, plotting most of the stops I chose from Fabri’s journey was difficult because the Psalter world map’s representation of Europe is condensed. The further north the location, such as those in Germany, the harder it was to plot the town because Europe is not given as much space, as the focus is Jerusalem and the Holy Lands as the center of the world.

The orientation of the Psalter world map complicated my plotting of Fabri’s travels on it because most modern maps are oriented with North on the top, while East is up on the Psalter world map. Given theological views of paradise being in the East, this makes sense, as the Psalter world map is religiously based. The orientation of the Psalter map points to the great importance of religion at the time of its creation, whereas the modern map’s orientation reflects the perceived greater importance of northern hemisphere nations as leaders in politics and economics and the history of countries in the northern hemisphere as colonizers of those in the southern hemisphere.

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