The Piri Reis Map


The Piri Reis map, a pre-modern world map, was discovered in 1929 following the conversion of Topkapi Palace [1] into a museum. Compiled in 1513 by Piri Reis (full name Hadji Muhiddin Piri Ibn Hadji Mehmed), Ottoman-Turkish admiral, geographer and cartographer, the map was based on earlier maps (including eight Ptolemaic maps from the era of Alexander the Great, an Arabic map of India, various medieval European maps [mappae mundi], four newly drawn Portuguese maps and allegedly the “lost map of Columbus”). [2]

The surviving fragment of the map details the western coasts of Europe and Africa along with 
eastern Brazil and various Atlantic islands with some accuracy; other parts, however, are somewhat ambiguous. Claims have been made that the southern section (bottom) is an ice free Antarctica (the map a legacy of an ice age civilization or an extra-terrestrial visitation) but more than likely it's the southernmost part of South America (Patagonia) or the, at the time, unknown land of the south Terra Australis.

In his controversial book entitled 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, [3]
Gavin Menzies, retired British submarine lieutenant-commander and amateur historian, asserts the coast in question is indeed that of Antarctica and alludes to the voyages of Chinese Admiral Zheng He (or more specifically to Zheng’s Vice-Admiral Hong Bao) who, at the behest of the Yongle Emperor, [4] explored significant portions of the unknown world, including allegedly (in the case of Hong Bao) Antarctica and Australia.

American academician Charles Hapgood, an advocate of recent (catastrophic) pole shift, claimed the map is proof positive of the exploratory efforts of an unknown pre-classical civilization.

Cartographic historian Gregory McIntosh claims the map was developed using Columbus’ cartographical input (Hispaniola is depicted with a north-south axis similar to depictions of Japan on maps of the same era and the names of many of the mainland ports and geographic points are found in the Italian navigator’s texts) [5] and further, in rebuttal to Hapgood’s theories, McIntosh also contends that the Piri Reis map is far from the most accurate map of the sixteenth century and that many others such as the Ribeiro maps of the 1520s and 30s or the Wright-Molyneux map of 1599 are vastly superior.

The Piri Reis map is currently housed in the library, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey.


[1] Topkapi Palace (initial construction 1459) was the main residence of the Ottoman Sultans and seat of imperial power untill 1856 and the construction of the more up to date Dolmabahce Palace. Topkapi Palace was transformed into a museum by government decree April 3,1924.

[2] All attempts (including those of the Turkish government) to find the "lost map of Columbus" have been unsuccessful.

[3] Though interesting, Menzies' book has been dismissed by mainstream historians as little more than pseudohistorical fiction.

[4] Born Zhu Di, May 2,1360, the Yongle Emperor was the third emperor of China’s Ming Dynasty. Both forward looking and expansionist he sponsored the enormous and long term (at least six of seven each larger and more costly than the one previous) Zheng He maritime expeditions.

[5] Columbus mistakenly believed that Japan and Hispaniola were the same island, that Cuba was part of the mainland and that the mainland was the coast of Asia.




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