Cartographic Genres and Practices

In addition to the world and regional maps, portolan charts, and handbooks for sailing directions discussed in the previous section, a number of other cartographic formats were developed in Islamic societies. Early in the ninth century, or perhaps even in the eighth century, the question of how to determine from any given place the direction toward Mecca was raised. David A. King claims that there were two cartographic worlds in Islamic societies with respect to the qibla. Mathematicians, astronomers, and mathematical geographers inhabited one of these two worlds. They developed trigonometric, projective, arithmetic, and other exact or approximate methods for solving the problem (Figure 7).

Legal scholars, students of the religious traditions, descriptive geographers, folk astronomers, and cosmographers who focused on miracles, wonders, and narrated histories populated the other. They relied on had?th, a body of religious teachings about what the Prophet and his companions had said and done, on astronomical and meteorological alignments ascribed to the Ka'ba since pre Islamic times, and on practices of travelers.

Qibla Map, MS Paris, BnF Perse 169, f 42a. Courtesy Bibliothe`que nationale de France.

Among the various methods used for mapmaking, grids, coordinate frames, and scales played roles that are not always easily discernible. Some mapmakers applied them as mathematical tools, while others apparently saw in them primarily symbolic statements about the possibility of mapping the world mathematically. Grids were used in rectangular and circular maps. Rectangular grids were applied in world maps such as the one made for al Ma'mun and by Suhrab (fl. first half fourth century h/tenth century), for regional maps and world maps illustrating historical works or encyclopedias such as the Masalik al abs. ar f? mamalik al ams. ar (Ways of Perception Concerning the Most Populous [Civilized] Provinces) compiled by the Mamluk judge and administrator Ibn Fad. lallah al 'Umar? (691–749 h/1301–49). Suhrab described his method as starting with a rectangle, followed by dividing the edges into degrees and marking the equator. Then he drew the horizontal lines that separate the climates. For positioning the localities he stretched two threads over the rectangle, one horizontally, the other vertically. Lost world maps made before 1500 may have worked with curvilinear grids as does the only extant exemplar of such a type attached to a manuscript of al 'Umar?'s work. The meaning of this grid has been interpreted differently by Fuat Sezgin who believes the grid to be a stereographic projection and the map to represent the map made for al Ma'mun and by David A. King who points to the several errors in the grid and al 'Umar?'s explanation and refers to historical evidence contradicting the identification of this map with that made for al Ma'mun.

Coordinate frames and scales appear early on maps made in Islamic societies. Several maps, however, are inscribed merely with one set of the coordinates, mostly longitudes, and the placement of the equator on which they are noted varies. Scales too show contradictory information. Such features are often taken to illustrate a lack of mathematical knowledge on the side of the mapmakers. The quality and care invested in some specimens of this kind and the people involved in the production of the manuscripts where they are found make such a reading unlikely. An example is the world map attached to one of the anthologies produced for the Timurid prince Iskandar Sultan (r. 812–17 h/1409–14).

Simple circular as well as quadratic schemes were used for organizing geographical knowledge for religious and divinatory purposes. Such diagrams could evolve into small scale maps since they linked either the Ka'ba or major religious monuments in Mecca with the individual sectors of the circle and the regions or towns inscribed in them. They often group a multitude of localities behind one specifically chosen town whose qibla serves as a marker or representative for all the other directions. The effect of such an arrangement was didactic and mnemonic in the same time. The earliest known scheme of this kind is found in a manuscript copy of Ibn Khurradadhbih's (third century h/ninth century) Kitab al masalik wa'l mamalik (Book of the Routes and Provinces). It consists of four sectors of the world, each one of them being connected with a part of the Ka'ba – MaghribEgypt, Syria, al Jaz?ra; Iraq, Armenia, Kashmir; Mansu ra, Tibet, China; Yemen. Over time, the schemes became more elaborate and could comprise as many as seventy two divisions. In addition to the schemes, maps and instruments for finding the qibla were created. The most sophisticated, Mecca centered map was engraved on three astrolabes made by Safavid instrument makers in the late seventeenth century.

Climatic zone charts are a further type of diagrammatic schemes that were widely used in geographical, cosmographical, astronomical, and historical treatises and dictionaries for illustrating the theoretical division of the earth as taught by natural philosophy and astronomy. Its widespread appearance across the disciplines and literary genres is but one indicator of the depth at which the intellectual outlook in Islamic societies was permeated by scientific elements of ancient Greek origin. A very simple exemplar of these kinds of diagrams is found in Sharaf al D?n al Mas'u d?'s (545–after 613 h/1150–after 1216) Jahan Danish (Knowledge of the World), a book on astronomy, astrology, and geography written in (549 h/1154–55). Three unnamed circles enclose eight parallel, equidistant lines identified at the right as demarcating the seven climates. Geographical features such as oceans, islands, and countries are sparsely marked by words alone. Numerous Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman circular and semicircular world maps also show such a scheme of climatic zones. The division into climates became the most important format of structuring the physical world in maps as well as texts. It was applied to maps of the Ptolemaic tradition, maps working within the tradition of the Balkh? schools, and maps derived from early modern European maps. Examples are the semicircular world map in 'Ayn al Zaman's Hasan b. 'Al? Qattan Marwaz?'s (465–548 h/1072–1153) Gayhan Shenakht (Constructing the World ) and the circular maps for Iskandar Sultan, the Book of Curiosities and Mehmet b. 'Al? Sipah? zadeh's (d. 997/1589) Turkish translation of his Awdahal masalik f? ma'rifat al buldan wa'l mamalik (Explanation of the Routes about the Knowledge of Places and Provinces).