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The Islamic World Map of 1154

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Colorful map of the known world in 1154 with Saudi Arabian peninsula at top center
The world map of al-Idrisi in 1154. It’s upside down from the modern point of view — the south at the top, north at the bottom — and Mecca at the center top. Facsimile by Konrad Miller, 1928. Geography and Map Division.

This is a guest post by Sundeep Mahendra, head of the Research Access and Collection Development Section in the Geography and Map Division.

Early in the 12th century, King Roger II of Sicily commissioned Arab Muslim geographer and cartographer Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Idrīs al-sharif al-Idrīsī (or al-Idrisi) to produce a book detailing the geography of the known world.

Over the course of nine years, and drawing on earlier works by Ptolemy, Arabic sources, firsthand information from world travelers and his own experience, al-Idrisi in 1154 completed what became one of the most detailed geographical works created during the medieval period.

Consisting of 70 separate section maps with accompanying text, when put together the original sheets would have created a rectangular map 9 feet, 5 inches long. In 1928, Konrad Miller produced this re-creation of al-Idrisi’s original work.

To a modern viewer acclimated to north being placed at the top of a map, this view of the world may seem skewed or even upside down. However, orienting maps with the south at the top was a common practice in Islamic cartography. Viewed from this direction, Mecca, the most holy city in the Islamic world and its focal point, is at the top and most prominent section of the map.

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Comments (3)

  1. But, what were the strengths and weaknesses? And which map is this article talking about it?

    • Hi there,

      The article describes the map pictured at the top of the piece. For more information on the map’s details, feel free to contact a research librarian in the Geography and Map Division through our “Ask a Librarian” service. It puts you in touch with a Librarian in the G&M reading room, just as if you walked into the Library. The link is here:

  2. I am confused is it the original map in my knowledge the original map was in circle with arabic language and . I want to see original map of Al Sharif Al Idrisi. If anyone knows about this kindly reply me.

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