The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean World

Mateo Prunes (1532-1594) was a mapmaker and prolific member of a family of Mallorcan cartographers who lived and worked here from the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth centuries. The cartographer specialized in portolan charts, navigational maps based on realistic descriptions of harbors and coasts. The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean World (see photo) shows the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, part of the Red Sea, the Atlantic coast of Africa from Cape Spartel to Senegal, and the European coast to northern Scandinavia. This colorful one-of-a-kind portolan chart was drawn on the skin of a single sheep in 1559.

I came across a reprint of this chart in an exhibition in Portocolom on the life and death of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colom y Mallorca). The exhibition curator, Gabriel Verd Martorell, claims that Columbus was born in Mallorca, was the illegitimate son of a son of the King Juan II de Aragon and used a similar portolan chart designed by Mallorcan cartographers for his seafaring voyage to India. Please bear in mind that in 1492 no world maps existed showing the oceans and any possible connections between the continents. The New World was still waiting to be discovered.

Even though the exhibition looks rather cheap and shabby in its presentation, the documents and exhibits on display make for some interesting food for thought. You might want to have a look for yourself.

The image was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of http://www.loc.gov (Library of Congress). I understand that the original vellum chart is owned by the Museo Naval in Madrid.

Thank you very much.

The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean World

The Fundación Bartolomé March

In Palma, there are two institutions called Fundación March. The first one is the Museu Fundación Juan March, set up by Juan March Ordinas, the contrabandista and later founder of Banca March, the father, who died 50 years ago this month. The second institution is called Fundación Bartolomé March, set up by the younger son of the patriarch and housed in the Palau March (see photo) in Palma, not far from Palma’s Cathedral. You might have sat in one of the trendy Cappuccino Grand Café hangouts without knowing what was going on in that very building above you.

The father, Juan March Ordinas, had wanted to join the social ranks of the Círculo Mallorquín, situated next door and today seat of the Parlament de les Illes Balears. The members of that club rejected the arriviste’s advances. Without as much as blinking an eye, Juan March bought the premisses next door and built a lavish palatial mansion, the Palau March, now home of the Fundación Bartolomé March, adorning its façade with a faux crest of arms complete with regal crown. Today, this set-up houses a formidable collection of 20th Century sculpture with works by renowned artists such as Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Max Bill, Eduardo Chillida and others, an outstanding library of manuscripts and precious books, an exceptional collection of top-notch Mallorcan cartographical treasures and a vast display of beautiful nativity crib figures from Naples, dating from the 18th century.

The photo was chosen from my archive. It was taken in Palma, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: May 23rd, 2008. The time was 19:24:34.

The Fundación Bartolomé March

The Limits to Growth

An extraordinary event took place in Italy, four days before the Spanish General Elections on Sunday. Last Wednesday, Italy constituted a new, post-Berlusconi government composed entirely of non-politicians. I have a feeling that Italy might be on to something good here and could well set an example for other countries currently struggling to combat the doldrums. Why could Spain, where none of the two big parties has really any credibility left and where none of the tried and tested politicians has much political clout any longer, why shouldn’t Spain agree to form a cross-party, non-partisan coalition of creative minds, visionaries, great intellects and specialists? Why shouldn’t Spain be governed by a Think Tank?

Perhaps it is time to accept that there are limits to our growth, just as was corroborated in 1972 by the Club of Rome. Perhaps exponential growth is no longer the only possible objective. Perhaps our children do come first, and their off-spring. Perhaps we finally need to introduce some modesty, contentment, morality, austerity and gratitude into our lives to expect similar qualities from our non-party-political leaders. Spain might be out of the recession sooner than we now can fathom, and Europe with it. All it would take, would be some unconventional wisdom, some unorthodox approach to the world financial structure, some determination and some hope.

I know, some chance. Things will get worse before they can get better, here in Spain.

The image shown above is an early Spanish map from German cartographer, Donnus Nicolaus Germanus (born ca. 1420; died ca. 1490), courtesy of nypl.org (New York Public Library). Herr Germanus lived in Florence, Italy, and worked for the Vatican.

Thank you very much.

The Limits to Growth

Weather Vane

Abraham Cresques and his son Jehuda Cresques are two eminent cartographers of maritime maps and portolan charts from the 14th century. Their most famous single work may well be the Atles Catalán from 1375. A Rosa de los Vientos (Weather Vane) in their honour is displayed in Palma’s Paseo Marítimo, opposite the Auditorium, recognizing their importance for Mallorca’s seafaring history. The sailboat image was lifted from the Atles Catalán itself, a detail of which is shown below. The sailboat can be spotted in the left hand bottom corner. It depicts no other than Jaume Ferrer, a famous seafarer from the 14th century, his men and his vessel.

The photo was taken in Palma de Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: August 22nd, 2010. The time was 10:49:30. The map was borrowed from the Internet. Thanks are due to Wikipedia.

Muchas gracias.

Weather Vane

The Prince’s Son From Felanitx

Felanitx

In 1956, Robert Graves published a compelling translation of George Sand’s Winter in Majorca (Valldemosa Edition, Mallorca, 1956). In a footnote to the book, he claimed that Christopher Columbus, the man who discovered America, hailed from Mallorca, in fact from Felanitx, and had Jewish origins.

Robert Graves stated his opinion without even knowing Gabriel Verd Martorell. This Mallorcan author (born 1955) published a book with the title Cristóbal Colón era noble y de sangre real: una realidad, nació en Mallorca (Imprenta Politecnica, Palma de Mallorca, 1989). There, Señor Verd Martorell convincingly argues that Cristobál Colón, or Cristobál Colom in Catalan (Christopher Columbus to most of us) is neither of Portuguese nor Italian origins, and not from Barcelona either, but rather was born in Felanitx to a Mallorcan mother, Margalida Colom, and fathered by the brother of King Fernando de Aragón, Príncipe Carlos de Viana.

Felanitx

Gabriel Verd Martorell worked for over ten years to prepare his argument. In 1984, he had already published a first book on the subject with the title Cristóbal Colón y La revelación del enigma, now in its fourth edition.

The author delivers substantial proof to his claim and in great detail, refering to an endless array of historic documents, maps, letters and diary entries. The most obvious arguments are that Colom named the first island he encountered in the New World as San Salvador, and the sea surrounding that island Mar de Nuestra Señora, both after the monastery near Felanitx (Nuestra Señora de San Salvador). Another island he named Isla Margalida, after the name of his mother. Had he been Italian, it should have been Margherita, or had he been Spanish, it should have been Margarita, and had he been Catalan, it should have been Margarida.

Apparently, Columbus also wrote all of his letters as well as his dairy entries in Mallorquín, never in Castellano, and only very occasionally in Italian. And there are many other convincing arguments.

The book makes for a captivating and also persuasive read. I recommend it to anybody literate enough to master the lingua Castellana.

Gabriel_Verd_Martorell

The photo (top) was taken in Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: May 2nd, 2009. The time was 21:14:36. The photo (bottom) was taken from the Internet and the website of the Ajuntament de Felanitx.

Moltes gràcies.

The Prince’s Son From Felanitx

The Atlas Maior By Joan Blaeu

balearic_islands

Long before the advent of photography, aeroplanes, rockets and satellites, human imagination was relying on clever people’s craftmanship such as carthography when it came to envisioning a picture of the world, its continents and islands.

The map of Mallorca and the Insulae Balearides et Pytiusae by a Dutchman, Joan Blaeu (shown below) is not the oldest map known of Mallorca but dating from 1635 it is pretty much one of the older ones.

This map of the archipelago was published in 1635 by Joan Blaeu’s father (Willem Janszoon Blaeu) in Amsterdam and later included in his Atlas Maior from 1662.

A very beautiful reprint of this massive Atlas Maior tome by Joan Blaeu is published by Taschen publishers and is available in some bookshops in Palma de Mallorca (€ 100). A thinner volume is edited by the same publishers as a reprint of an extract of the Atlas Maior, called Hispania, Portugallia, America et Africa, concentrating on the Iberian peninsula and the Spanish and Portuguese overseas possessions.

Balearides

Previously I made a blog entry about the Atlas Catalán from 1375 by the Mallorcan cartographer Abraham Cresques. There, the Balearic Islands are shown only in a very small representation, rendering the archipelago barely visible. Here is a detail of the Atlas Catalán, showing parts of Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and Northern Africa:

abraham_cresques

For the sake of comparison, here is another rather nice Balearic map, Islas Baleares y Pithyusas, from the hand of Tomás López from Seville, Spain, published some 150 years after Joan Blaeu’s map in 1793. This map became part of the Atlas Geográfico de España by the very Tomás López, published in Madrid, 1804-1810:

Tomás_López

Today’s photo was taken from the Internet, courtesy of ESA, the European Space Agency. Thank you very much. The images of the maps were all taken from the Alta Mar website. Muchas gracias.

The Atlas Maior By Joan Blaeu

The Catalan Atlas of 1375

jaffuda_cresques

During the 14th century, Mallorca was particularly renowned for its cartographers, mapmakers and makers of portolan charts. The most famous ones were Abraham Cresques and his son, Jafudà (shown in my photo in an artist’s impression). They lived in Palma and they were Jewish. After the Aragonese persecutions of 1391, Jafudà Cresques had to convert to Christianity, at which time he took the name Jaume Riba (Latin: Jacobus Ribus).

It is believed that the King of Aragón y Cataluña, Pedro IV instructed Abraham Cresques to draw a Mapamundi, showing the world as it was then known, emphasizing “a saber imagen del mundo y de las regiones que hay en la Tierra y los diferentes pueblos que la habitan”. The map, also known as ‘Atles català‘ was reportedly finished in 1375. In 1381, the King made the masterpiece a present to his cousin, the French King Charles VI. Pedro IV’s son and successor, King Juan I ordered another map from Jafudà Cresques in 1387, the year in which Cresques senior had died; that map was completed in 1389. This latter Mapamundi is presumed lost. The first one, the Catalan Atlas of 1375 shown below, is on display at the Bibliothèque National de France, in Paris.

atlas_catala

The Fundació Bartolomé March at the Palau March in Palma owns a significant collection of Medieval maps of the Escuela Mallorquín but curiously, does not own one from the hand of either one of the Cresqueses. Still, a visit there could be rewarding, if one was interested in the subject. Visiting times at the Palau March museum are Monday to Friday (09h30 – 14h00), and Tuesday to Thursday (16h00 – 20h00) before July 14th, after which there is no afternoon session until September 16th. Entry admission is 3.60 €.

The photo (top) was taken in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The date: September 19th, 2008. The time: 16:01:11. The sculpture of Jafudà Cresques is by the artist María Isabel Ballester, from the year 2007. Its location is in Palma de Mallorca, in Plaça Temple. The Mapamundi map (bottom) was borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of Valdeperrillos. Gracias.

The Catalan Atlas of 1375