The Spread of Geographic Information on the Korean Peninsula as Seen through Ancient Maps

Explore the changes in geographic information on the Korean Peninsula, which began to appear on world maps in the late 16th century

By National Maritime Museum of Korea

ⓒ 2021 Korea National Maritime Museum all rights reserved

Royaume de Corée Royaume de CoréeNational Maritime Museum of Korea

In the 16th century, world geographic information was distributed with a dramatic centering on the Iberian Peninsula. The information on Joseon, which had no direct exchange with the West, was brought indirectly to Europe through missionaries and merchants who were sojourning in China, Japan, and Indochina. Accordingly, place names related to the Korean peninsula started to appear on world maps from the late 16th century.

Van Langren, H. F., Extra & Accurata Delinerarie World Map (1595) by Henricus F. van LangrenNational Maritime Museum of Korea

The Korean Peninsula Perceived as an Island

East Asia and Joseon were perceived ambiguously in the West around the 16th century. So how were they recorded? During these periods, the shape of the Korean Peninsula was often presented as an island. As there was very little information related to Korea, Korea was depicted as a country without a clearly defined geographic form and the country name was marked as the Island of Korea(Ilha de Corea / COREA INSVLA / Corai Insula).

Van Langren, H. F., Extra & Accurata Delinerarie World Map (1595) by Henricus F. van LangrenNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of East Indies by Arnold Florent van Langren and Henricus Floris van Langren

This is a map of Southeast Asia which was included in the Travel Guide: Jan Huyghen Van Lischoten, His Discours of Voyages into the East and West Indies. On this map, the left side points to the north, and CHINA, COREA, and JAPAN are displaced. At the bottom of China, India and other countries in Southeast Asia are depicted in detail. Furthermore, India and three other countries in Northeast Asia are differentiated using separate colors.           

The Korean peninsula is marked as ‘Island of Korea(ILHA DE COREA)’ in the shape of a circle, and ‘Coast of Coray(Costa de conray)’ and ‘Island of Thieves(I.dos Ladrones)’ are written as well. In addition, a small island that belonged to Coray(Korea) is drawn on the upper part of the map.

Map of Japan by Luís Teixeira (1595/1595) by Luís TeixeiraNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Japan by Luís Teixeira

This map was created by Luís Teixeira, the official Spanish royal cartographer, and included in the book Theatre of the World (Theatrum Orbis Terrarum), by Abraham Ortelius. This is the first Western map on which only the Korean peninsula and the Japanese Islands are drawn.

Korea is drawn as a long island and marked as the Island of Korea(COREA INSULA). In the inland sections, the names of ‘Goryeo(Corij)’ and ‘Joseon(Tauxem)’ are written, along with the name ‘The Island of Thieves(Ilhas dos Ladrones)’ on Jeju Island.

Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado Atlas by Fernão Vaz DouradoNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado

This is a map of Southeast Asia from Fernão Vaz Dourado's Atlas which was a facsimile printed by the Portuguese government in 1948. It was made after collecting marine charts copied by the marine cartographer, Fernão Vaz Dourado. 

It includes the Korean peninsula, China and Japan. Korea appears in the shape of sweet potato on the right, and Japan as a shrimp-shaped island nearby. ‘Conrai Coast(Costa de Conrai)’ was inscribed across the Korean Peninsula and the Chinese continent, ‘Conrai’ referring to Goryeo. It was the first Western map to write a Korean country name on the Korean Peninsula.

Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado, From the collection of: National Maritime Museum of Korea
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Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado, From the collection of: National Maritime Museum of Korea
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Map of Asia by Nicolas Sanson (1650/1650) by Nicolas SansonNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Asia by Nicolas Sanson

This is a Map of Asia produced by Nicolas Sanson who was the most influential cartographer in Europe in the mid-17th century. 

Korea is recognized as an island called Corey, and place names are marked as Joseon(Tauxem), Goryeo(Corey), and Jeju island(I.d.Larrons). On the top right corner of the map, the coastline along the northwestern coast is omitted, and the names of serveral kingdoms are recorded, with an imaginary strait indicated as the Strait of Anián(Destroit d’Anian).

Map of Japan by Martino Martini by Martino MartiniNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Joseon Is a Peninsula Country

In the mid-17th century, maps of East Asia produced by Italian Jesuit missionary Martini had great influence in Europe. The greatest Dutch cartographer of the time, J. Blaeu, along with his family, published an Atlas of China with the map by Martino Martini. The shape of the Korean peninsula included in Martini's atlas has been established as a typical form of Joseon for about 80 years.

Map of Japan by Martino Martini by Martino MartiniNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Japan by Martino Martini

This is the map of Japan included in the Atlas of China by Martino Martini. The Korean Peninsula is marked as ‘Corea Peninsula’, and is drawn in the shape of a long peninsula. Even though small islands off the southern coast are drawn, there are shapes that are inaccurate. Nevertheless, this map is a very important document because it helps to complete the lack of geographic information about East Asia that existed among European cartographers in the mid-17th century.

Map of China by Vincenzo Maria Coronelli Map of China by Vincenzo Maria CoronelliNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of China by Vincenzo Maria Coronelli

This map was produced by Vincenzo Maria Coronelli, an Italian monk and geographer. Centered on China, Formosa(Taiwan), the Korean Peninsula, and even the Great Wall of China at the northern end of China are depicted.

Korea is marked as ‘COREY’, ‘COREA’, and ‘TIOCENCOUK’, and the local names are recorded in detail such as Ap-lok river(Yalo), Pyengan-do(Pinggan), Hamgyong-do(Hienking), Jeolla(Ciuenlo), Gyeongsang(Kingsan), Chungcheong(Chiuncing), and Jeju(ISLE FUNGMA).

Above the title of the map, there is an ‘IHS’ monogram symbolizing the Society of Jesus and a record that is dedicated to Antonio Baldigiani, a Jesuit and professor at the Roman College. Also, it is decorated with a globe, a compass, a quadrant, and a sundial required for a voyage.

Map of Korea and Japan by Vincenzo Maria CoronelliNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Korea and Japan by Vincenzo Maria Coronelli

This map was produced by Vincenzo Maria Coronelli, an Italian monk and geographer. Influenced by Martino Martini’s map in 1655, Coronelli divided Joseon into eight provinces, but the location and regional names are incorrect. 

The Korean Peninsula is marked as Korea and Joseonkuk(COREA et TIOCENCOUK), and Jeju island is recorded as ‘Is Qiaiungma’. Each region and mountain range in Korea, such as Daedong River(Tatung) and Han River(Hanghai), is recorded on the map, providing more detailed information related to the topography and the place names than Martini’s map.

Map of Asia by Nicolas Sanson Map of Asia by Nicolas SansonNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Asia by Nicolas Sanson

This is the Map of Asia created by French cartographer Nicolas Sanson in the 17th century. Sanson left a comment on the Map of Asia that it was difficult for him to produce the chart, since the size of China is inaccurate and differs according to the sources who report on it. Therefore, if you look at maps produced by Sanson around the same time, on each map the location of Beijing is different, and the Korean peninsula is sometimes drawn as an island, or at other times, a peninsula.

However, this map was drawn based on atlases by J. Blaeu and Martini. Therefore, Korea is depicted as a peninsula, not an island. On this map, Korea is marked as ‘Kingdom of Korea’(ROYAUME DE LA COREE), and the East Sea as ‘MER DE COREE’, with Jeju island as ‘I.de Quelpaerts’ respectively.

On the Mystery of the Sea by Dudley On the Mystery of the Sea by Dudley (1646/1667) by Robert DudleyNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Korea and Japan by Robert Dudley

This is the Map of Korea and Japan included in the atlas, On the Mystery of the Sea. There are three maps including Korea in Chapter 2 of Volume 1: a whole map of Asia, a whole map of the Korean peninsula, and a map on which only part of the eastern coast of Korea is marked.


On this nautical chart, Korea is drawn as a long oval shape, and the Joseon dynasty is described with the words ‘Kingdom of Korea is a peninsula(Regno di Corai, é Penisola)’ in Italian. In addition, the East Sea is marked as Sea of Korea(MARE DI CORAI) and is the second oldest Western chart upon which ‘Sea of Korea’ is marked. Regarding the place names of Korea, only two are written: Joseon(Tauxem) and Corai.

On the Mystery of the Sea by Dudley On the Mystery of the Sea by Dudley, Robert Dudley, 1646/1667, From the collection of: National Maritime Museum of Korea
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On the Mystery of the Sea by Dudley On the Mystery of the Sea by Dudley, Robert Dudley, 1646/1667, From the collection of: National Maritime Museum of Korea
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This is the first edition of the world’s first sea atlas, On the Mystery of the Sea, which was produced based on the Mercator projection. It was created by British explorer and cartographer Robert Dudley. This atlas consists of six volumes in three books.

Map of Asia by Guillaume de L’isle Map of Asia by Guillaume de L’isle (1700/1700) by Guillaume DelisleNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Asia by Guillaume de L’isle

This is the first chart using materials from the National Institute of Science by Guillaume de L’isle, the French head royal geographer. This chart depicts all of Asia, including the Arabian Peninsula, the East Indies, New Guinea, and the very end of Australia. It also indicates Beijing in a relatively correct position on the basis of observation by a French missionary dispatched to China. 

Map of Asia by Guillaume de L’isle Map of Asia by Guillaume de L’isle (1700/1700) by Guillaume DelisleNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Korea is drawn in the shape of a peninsula and marked as the ‘Kingdom of Korea’(R. DE LA CORÉE). Each place is written as follows: The East Sea as ‘MER ORIENTALE’, Mt. Baekdu as ‘M.Chanpe’, Pyengan-do Province as ‘Pingan’, Jeolla as ‘Civenlo’, and Jeju as ‘Fungma’.  The border is marked up to West Gando(Jiandao) region, including Xai-yan.





Map of Asia by John Senex Map of Asia by John Senex (1710/1710) by John SenexNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Asia by John Senex

This Map of Asia was co-produced by The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge in London, UK, and The Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris, France. The cartographer, John Senex, was a geographer to Queen Anne of Great Britain who ordered the creation of the major charts in the 18th century. 

The Korean peninsula is marked as ‘Peninsula’ and the East Sea as ‘THE EASTERN OR COREA SEA’ respectively. In the case of Jeju Island, it is indicated as both ‘Fungma’ and ‘Quelpaerts I.’ at the same time.

Map of Korea by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville (1735/1735) by Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'AvilleNational Maritime Museum of Korea

The First Western Complete Map of Korea 

In the early 18th century, the interest of the French scientific community in China greatly increased. In addition, Kangxi(康熙帝) of the Qing Dynasty of those days had a deep interest in the natural science of Europe. Accordingly, he requested new missionaries be sent to China. Following this, the whole of China was measured and the Map of the Qing Dynasty was produced. Du Halde(J.B.Du Halde, 1674-1743), who was in charge of editing the letters of Jesuit missionaries, decided to create a book called, Book on China, which contains Chinese geography. D'Anville's Map of Korea, which is included in Du Halde’s Book on China(1735), is the first Western map produced that perceives Joseon as an independent nation.

Map of Korea by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville (1735/1735) by Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'AvilleNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Korea by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville

Famous French geographer, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville created this complete map of Korea, the first one to be published in the West. Korea is shown as a sovereign nation, but the place names are written to reflect transliterated Chinese characters, not Korean. Therefore, the capital city is indicated as ‘KING-Ki-TAO’, and ‘Capitale de la Corée’ is written below it. D'Anville’s map is evaluated as the most accurate Korean map until the map that surveyed the seas adjacent of the Korean peninsula was released in the 19th century.

‘Dokdo(Usan-do)’ is written as ‘Tchian-chan-tao’, again based on the Chinese pronunciation, because ‘Usan-do(于山島)’ was incorrectly written as Cheonsando(千山島) due to another confusion. 

As production of D'Anville’s Map of Korea was based on the Map of the Qing Dynasty, misspellings of Chinese and Roman characters for Dokdo Island and Usando were quoted as they were. ‘Ulleungdo’ was written as ‘Fan-ling-tao’. This mistake was based on the Chinese pronunciation, as they confused Ulleungdo with Beomneungdo(範陵島) or Banneungdo(攀陵島•礬陵島). 

Description of Empire of China Description of Empire of ChinaNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Book on China by Jean Baptiste Du Halde

It consists of a total of 4 volumes, and its contents are detailed and precise descriptions of the nature, politics, history, and geography of China and Manchuria.

Description of Empire of China Description of Empire of ChinaNational Maritime Museum of Korea

The Book on China was produced as a book on the geography of China by Jesuit father Jean Baptiste Du Halde, and was based on the map of the Qing Dynasty and documents left by Jesuit missionaries.

Description of Empire of China Description of Empire of ChinaNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Description of Empire of China Description of Empire of ChinaNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Royaume de Corée Royaume de CoréeNational Maritime Museum of Korea


The history of Korea is briefly introduced with D'Anville's Map of Korea and Father J.B.Régis’s A Geographical Contemplation about the Joseon Kingdom.

Royaume de Corée Royaume de CoréeNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Korea is labeled ‘Goryeokuk’(KAO LI KOUE), ‘Kingdom of Joseon’(ROYAUME DE COREE), and ‘TCHAO-SIEN’ in Chinese characters on the included map.

The History of Travel by Prévost The History of Travel by Prévost by Antoine François PrévostNational Maritime Museum of Korea

The History of Travel by Antoine François Prévost

This is a compilation of travel stories that includes all the travel essays published in Europe after the 15th century by Antoine François Prévost, a French clergyman and historian. Antoine François Prévost wrote up to 15 volumes, and the book was continued by other writers after his death, resulting in a total of 19 volumes. The book includes a preface written by Antoine François Prévost, Regis’s writing, and a chart created by Bellin.

The History of Travel by Prévost The History of Travel by Prévost (1745/1789) by Antoine François PrévostNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Parts relating to Korea are introduced in Volumes 5-7. In particular, on A Map of Katay or Empire of the Kin included in volume 7, the East Sea is marked as the Sea of Korea(Mer du Corée), and Ulleungdo and Dokdo are expressed as small islands in the east. This book made a huge contribution to European society by indicating that the eastern waters were settled upon as the ‘Sea of Korea’(Mer du Corée). It also had great significance because it compiled all of the information known about Joseon within France.

Katay Map by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin Katay Map by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1749/1749) by Jacques-Nicolas BellinNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Katay Map by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin

Katay Map refers to ‘a map of China’s Jin Dynasty’. Korea is identified as ‘CORÉE’, and the East Sea is designated as ‘MER DE CORÉE’ in French mixed with ‘ZEE VAN KORÉA’ in Dutch. In addition, the French scale is used.

In the Sea of Korea, Tsushima Island is likewise shown, although Ulleungdo and Dokdo are not labeled.

Map of Korea included in General History of Voyages by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1752/1752) by Jacques-Nicolas BellinNational Maritime Museum of Korea

Map of Korea included in General History of Voyages by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin

The East Sea is described as ‘Sea of Korea’(MARE DI CORAI). In addition, the names for the eight provinces of Joseon are clearly recorded as Jeolla Do(TSVEN-LO), Chungcheong-do(CHU-SIN), Gyeongsang-do(KIN-SHAN), Gyeonggi-do(KING-KI), Hwanghae-do(WHANG-HAY), Gangwon-do(KYANG-YWEN), Pyongan-do(PING-NGAN), and Hangyeong-do(HYEN-KING). In addition, the colors on the map vary depending on the ‘do’(province).

Ulleungdo is marked as ‘FANG-LING-TAU’ and Dokdo as ‘CHIANG-SAN-TAU’(千山島), following Chinese pronunciation, with Dokdo depicted as being closer to the peninsula than Ulleungdo. The East Sea is described as ‘Sea of Korea’(MER DE COREE).


Credits: Story

This story is based on the exhibition "Wonderworld Maps Connecting Longingness Beyond the Horizon," held at the Korea National Maritime Museum from December 7, 2021 to March 6, 2022.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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