Fra Mauro's mappa mundi (1459) by Fra MauroOriginal Source: Museo Correr
This world map, considered the greatest memorial of medieval cartography, was produced between 1457 and 1459 by the Italian monk Fra Mauro. It is a circular planisphere drawn on parchment, oriented to the south, and mounted on a wooden stretcher frame around 6.5 feet (2 m) in diameter.
The map was commissioned by King Afonso V of Portugal. Fra Mauro created it without leaving his monastery, assisted by Andrea Bianco, a sailor and cartographer who was also from Italy.
They put together this large world map using information from expeditions carried out by Chinese and Arab sailors across the Indian Ocean. They may have even copied from maps that Marco Polo himself had brought back to Venice from China.
Since part of Japan appears on the map, there are theories that Chinese and Arab expeditions had reached the Pacific Ocean …
… and also the Atlantic, with the island of Madagascar, the Cape of Good Hope, and the west coast of Africa also shown.
This map precedes the Portuguese nautical charts that show the tip of Africa. The Portuguese did not round the Cape of Good Hope until Bartolomeu Dias' expedition in 1488. The west coast of Africa, on the other hand, is not as well defined as the east coast, with a river mouth at the level of the Gulf of Guinea.
The map was completed on April 24, 1459 and sent to Portugal, but has since been lost. Fra Mauro died two years later, while he was making a copy of the map for the Signoria of Venice (the highest governing body in the former Republic of Venice). The copy was finished by Andrea Bianco.
Text: Adaptation of the Spanish National Geographic Institute Library (BIGN) text for the catalog "The maps and the first world tour".