Nautical Chart of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov

Discovering Navigation in the 16th Century.

By Museu Marítim de Barcelona

Museu Marítim de Barcelona

Nautical chart of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov (1508) by Pietro RussoMuseu Marítim de Barcelona

Majorca was at the forefront of the production of nautical charts, following a period of intensive map-making activity driven by the growth in navigation and the glorious age of maritime trade in the Mediterranean.

The period between the 14th and 16th centuries was Majorca's golden age. The charts are outstanding works containing a wealth of highly accurate information that demonstrates a great deal of nautical and geographical knowledge by Majorcan cartographers.

Nautical chart (1600) by Vicenç PrunesMuseu Marítim de Barcelona

The Museu Marítim de Barcelona houses an extremely valuable cartography collection, both for its sheer size and the inclusion of works from the families that best represent the Majorcan school.

Nautical chart of the Western and Central Mediterranean (1538) by Bartomeu OlivesMuseu Marítim de Barcelona

The collection's highlights include charts by members of the Olives and Prunes families.

Nautical chart of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov (1508) by Pietro RussoMuseu Marítim de Barcelona

Nautical chart of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov

This nautical chart was signed by Pietro Russo in Messina in the year 1508. It includes particularly interesting graphic elements, such as the depiction of Scotland separated from England and the former kingdom of Granada as an independent state, despite the fact that this territory had been conquered by the Catholic Monarchs 16 years previously. It also includes other features typical to Majorcan cartography, such as "the Atlas Mountains depicted as a palm tree," "the Danube as a chain of links," and cities such as Genoa, Venice, Cairo, Damascus, and Jerusalem given prominence and shown with their flags.


Portolan charts were made from parchment, and typically had a "neck." The chart's neck faces west—the usual orientation of the time.

The "neck" of this nautical chart includes an inscription that refers to the chart's author, and the place and date of creation.


These fine lines show courses related to the winds. They are drawn in different colors to make it easier to choose the correct route.

This allowed the captain to follow the course and, using the scale, to estimate the distances traveled.

The course network is charted in relation port's location.

The Compass Rose

This is positioned at the intersection of the wind rose lines, indicating the routes. The 8 main directions are drawn in black, the 8 intermediate directions are drawn in green, and the 16 quarter directions are drawn in red.

The symbols of the cardinal points are also shown, with east marked by a cross.

The Scale

The scale made it possible to estimate distances and to calculate a journey’s length. It consists of a 6-point grid shown as vertical lines that surround the end points, alternating with white sections. The sections are roughly equivalent to 50 miles.

Knowledge and artistic ability are essential for map drawing, as is geographical and scientific knowledge.


The depiction of cities, how they are represented and the way their shape is drawn, is the main source of political-geographical information for each one.

Particular conventions tended to be used, such as perspective drawings of walled cities. These outlines were systematically reproduced and became graphical codes expressing physical and human phenomena, as an emblem of their sovereignty.

The Red Sea

The charts contain a wealth of geographical information. They include drawings and colors that tell the story of the distinctive features of land and sea, such as mountain silhouettes, and blue rivers. These conventions for depicting geographical and geometric features were previously used in Arab cartography.

Many charts show the Red Sea as a crimson strip. On this chart, it is represented as wavy red lines on a white background.

Place Names

The charts are detailed records of coastal ports and places. Names are inscribed in careful calligraphy, in different colors and with an indication of their importance, and whether they could be used as places of refuge.

The names of the cities and ports written in red, such as Barcelona or Majorca, were the most important. The color red was the indication of significance.

There is a wealth of place names written along the coast, including headlands, coves, mouths, islands, and other useful information for sailors. The accuracy of the contours and the precision of the locations are particularly interesting.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains that stretch across almost the whole of North Africa are represented as a palm tree, commonly referred to as "Atlas as a palm tree."

It also contains a large number of miniature drawings intended to evoke the physical and human environment. The wide variety of details and extraordinary use of color, as well as its simple design, are elements that add a great deal of beauty to its informational value.

Credits: Story

An exhibition by:
Museo Marítim de Barcelona (Barcelona Maritime Museum)
Department of Collections Management and Information

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