Portolan chart of the Mediterranean Sea

Attributed to Oliva family1600

Naval Museum

Naval Museum
Madrid, Spain

This portolan chart shows the area around the Mediterranean Sea. The east coast of the Iberian Peninsula is featured, as is part of the west coast as far as Cape St. Vincent in Portugal. Its colorful decoration stands out with its 6 wind roses (large colored fleurs-de-lis) and course system originating in Sicily.

The chart is likely to be a late creation in the Majorcan style as the spelling of its French place names is typical of the 17th century. It was drawn up in Marseille, possibly by the Oliva family workshop. This family kept the Majorcan cartographic tradition going, while also introducing Italian and oriental influences. The dynasty appears to have been founded by Bartolomeo Oliva who produced maps in Majorca from 1538. The family later moved to Messina, Naples, and Marseille. They continued to make maps for many years until the time of descendent Joan Oliva, who created a wealth of cartographic works between 1598 and 1650.

Medieval "portolans" (also called "portolan charts") were cartographic instruments that, together with other nautical equipment such as compasses, became indispensable tools allowing ships to move safely around the Mediterranean coastline. Their origins can be traced back to the "peripli" manuscripts used to record oral descriptions of coastal routes by Greek and Roman navigators. In time these developed into "portolan charts": a geographical summary including port characteristics, approximate distances between coastal features, river mouths, anchorage information, and any other references that a seafarer might find useful on their journey. This information was written on parchment or a similar material, resulting in what are now known as nautical or portolan charts.

Portolan charts were first created in the Middle Ages (13th century) and were produced until the Early Modern Period. They were originally made in a region of the Mediterranean where there were intensive political, commercial, and cultural links between cities. Major centers of map production included Majorca, Genoa, and Venice.


  • Title: Portolan chart of the Mediterranean Sea
  • Creator: Attributed to Oliva family
  • Date Created: 1600
  • Location Created: Marsella, France
  • Provenance: La obra entró al Museo Naval como asignación del Ministerio de Cultura en 2002.
  • Type: Cartography
  • Original Source: Museo Naval, Madrid.
  • Rights: Museo Naval, Madrid-All rights reserved
  • Medium: Pigment on parchment
  • Width: 70cm
  • Height: 40cm

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