The Lost Map of Al-Idrisi

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‘[Roger of Sicily ordered that] a disk [da’ira] should be produced in pure silver of a large extent and of 400 Roman ratls in weight, each ratl of 112 dirhams and when it was ready he had engraved on it a map of the seven climates and their lands and regions, their shorelines and hinterlands, gulfs and seas, watercourses and places of rivers, their inhabited and uninhabited parts, what [distances] were between each locality there, either along frequented roads or in determined miles or authenticated measurements and known harbors according to the version appearing on the drawing board, not differing from it at all and thus following what had been decided there without any variation.’

Al-Idrisi, Opus geographicum, fasc. 1, p. 6 (note 5).

© Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation

In a groundbreaking project, Factum Foundation has re-created al-Idrisi’s fabled map. Neither facsimile nor copy, this re-creation combines deatiled historical research and advanced digital techniques with the highest levels of craftsmanship. This project plays tribute to the lost original, while offering an additional layer to add to the complexity of its transmission.

The 12th-century Islamic cartographer al-Idrisi for created this world map in 1154 for Roger II of Sicily. It was a masterpiece of mapping which remained the most technically sophisticated world-map for three centuries after its production. Drawing on several centuries of Islamic cartographic research, al-Idrisi produced both a single, round map engraved onto a silver disk and set into a wooden table, with Mecca at its centre and a detailed book titled the Nuzhat al-mushtāq fi'khtirāq al-āfāq, or the Entertainment for those wanting to discover the world (often known as Tabula Rogeriana or Book of Roger). This book details each map with a description of the place beside it, providing context to climates, people and their customs, appearance, clothes and language. 

Factum’s has re-created the map, measuring 2m in diameter and built into a wooden table: one has been given to the Bodleian and one to be given to Palermo – Roger’s capital and the map’s original home. The Bodleian’s copy was shown at the library in an exhibition entitled ‘Talking Maps’ (5th July 2019-1st March 2020), where it was displayed alongside both historic and fantastical maps – among them Factum Arte’s map of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

This map has also been the backdrop to Jerry Brotton's talk 'The Centre of the World: al-Idrisi's Map' on February 28th, at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi (February 25th - 28th 2020), before being part of Factum Foundation's exhibition in Palazzo Fava, Bologna, from March 12th to June 28th, 2020.

You can follow the links below to read more about the recording and making of al-Idrisi’s world map, watch the short film below or read the book 'Re-creating the lost silver map of al-Idrisi' (2019).


Re-creating the lost silver map of al-Idrisi

Text by Professor Jerry Brotton, Daniel Crouch Rare Books and Adam Lowe - 2019

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Al-Idrisi and Roger II: mapping the world in the 12th century

The recording and digital reconstruction of al-Idrisi’s world map


Engraving the al-Idrisi map in silver


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