Riding the wave

Aegean Sea

Turkish masterpieces

The Italian "Books of islands" certainly were a model to the atlas of the Mediterranean by Ahmet Muhiddin Piri, known as Piri Re'is. Born in Gallipoli on the Dardanelles around 1470, he was the nephew of Kemal Re'is, influential admiral of the Turkish fleet, and had in turn gained command of the fleet of Suleiman the Magnificent, but then fell into disgrace and was executed in 1554.

In 1513 Piri Re'is produced a world map - of which only a fragment survived representing the Atlantic, kept in the Topkapi in Istanbul - and the Kitab-i Bahriyyé, or "Book of the Sea" of which about thirty specimens are extant, variously dated: of the original version two editions are known, dated 1521 and 1526, the first of which probably intended for use of the Ottoman fleet, at the time engaged in the conquest of the Mediterranean, because it describes the coastal countries and includes a manual of navigation. The second, much more elaborate, had probably been destined to the library of the Sultan.

A specimen, attributed to the years 1570-1580 and kept in the Bologna University Library, is void of the descriptive part and consists of 206 multi-colored plates, including 33 dedicated to Italy up to Liguria and 19 to the South.

The route starts at Gallipoli and along the coasts of the Mediterranean as far as Gibraltar, and then along North Africa and back to the starting point.

In his typical style, Piri Re'is' charts have a "scalloped" profile with rounded bays, points of intersection of eight winds, soft colors and stereotyped towered town profiles, typical of the time, emblematic of major cities.

Sicily in the Kitab-i Bahriyyé, reproduced by the publisher Capone.
(Bologna University Library, Ms. 3609).

A splendid map of the Aegean, oriented with south at the top, represents the coast from Vlora in Albania to Fethiye in Turkey, and all the Greek islands.

It is signed (lower right, under the graphic scale) by Mehmed Reis who claims to be a captain, son of Menemenli, and to have made the chart in the Muslim year 999, corresponding to 1590.

It presents a rose of sixteen winds in the middle and sixteen similar ones on the outskirts of the chart, highlighted by a circle in gold. The coasts are drawn in blue and the islands in green, red, blue and gold, while place-names are scarce.

Mehemed Reis. Parchment, 825x595 mm
(Venice, Museo Correr)