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What the
site is
Map History

A Critical Re-examination of Portolan Charts
with a Reassessment of Their
Replication and Seaboard Function

comprising more than 30 separate web publications and over 120 tables and graphs:
by Tony Campbell

Copyright © 2011-2020


The purpose of this site and its findings

These pages of essays, notes, tabulated data and analysis (equivalent to a medium-sized monograph) cover a wide range of issues relating to the portolan charts of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, with the adjacent Atlantic coasts. They do not, however, attempt to offer new insights into the charts' origin (though see the 'Carte Pisane' essay) or the methods employed in their mathematical construction.

Instead the concentration is on the charts' development and the reasons for their continuation, broadly unchanged over four centuries. This does not necessarily, or indeed usually, mean progress but rather the introduction, perpetuation or alteration of personal or regional stylistic 'signatures', against a broadly unchanging backdrop. The main dynamism, and one not immediately visible, relates to the charts' toponymy. Detailed studies of the 3,000 names around the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts reinforces some earlier conclusions while confounding others.

Some surprising findings have resulted from various detailed analyses of virtually all such works produced up to 1469, and selectively of those created thereafter - insights that were not possible on the basis of earlier partial studies.

Portolan charts, it is asserted, are a major, if not the primary, source for their own history

Access to the site

            The easiest entry-points might be via:

  • Overview of the portolan chart pages
  • General Conclusions

    and the main essays:

  • A detailed reassessment of the Carte Pisane: a late and inferior copy, or the lone survivor from the portolan charts' formative period?
  • Cartographic innovations by the early portolan chartmakers (and subsequent developments)
  • Introductory notes on workshops
  • The wider implications of the 'Colour & Shape Analysis'
  • Innovative Portolan Chart Names
  • Abandoned Portolan Chart Names
  • Red Names on the Portolan Charts (1311-1677) a detailed investigation
  • The style and content of Grazioso Benincasa's charts: imitation, innovation and repetition
  • The Charta Rogeriana: a reappraisal of the making of al-Idrīsī's world map of 1154 and its dissemination
  • The mental wind compass of the medieval Mediterranean: the rediscovery of its structure and interpretations of its use (including a section authored by Roel Nicolai)

    Mounted on the web 7 March 2011, with major additions February 2012, September 2013 & March 2015, November 2016
    (other additions and corrections are noted in the appropriate place)

    See the ongoing listing:

    Significant post-publication additions & corrections to the portolan chart pages

    You can search across the whole of this site
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    The tables have been left in their current Microsoft Office Word 3 format
    (allowing online sorting on up to three fields at a time)





    The 1987 'CHAPTER' on pre-1501 charts

    The 1986 'CENSUS' of pre-1501 charts


    Carte Pisane and the earliest portolan charts Charta Rogeriana

    Colours and shapes



    Later charts

    Mental Wind Compass