Piri Reis (full name Hadji Muhiddin Piri Ibn Hadji Mehmed) (about 14651554
or 1555) was an Ottoman-Turkish admiral, geographer and cartographer born
between 1465 and 1470 in Gallipoli on the Aegean coast of Turkey.
He is primarily known today for his maps and charts collected in his Kitab-ı
Bahriye (Book of Navigation), a book which contains detailed information on
navigation as well as extremely accurate charts describing the important ports
and cities of the Mediterranean Sea. He gained fame as a cartographer when a
small part of his first world map (prepared in 1513) was discovered in 1929 at
Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. The most surprising aspect was the presence of the
Americas on an Ottoman map, making it the first Turkish map ever drawn of the
Americas -- although not the first ever, which was drawn by pilot and
cartographer Juan de la Cosa in 1500 and is conserved in the naval museum (Museo
Naval) in Madrid.
The most striking characteristic of the first world map (1513) of Piri Reis,
however, is the level of accuracy in positioning the continents (particularly
the relation between Africa and South America) which was unparalleled for its
time. Even maps drawn decades later did not have such accurate positioning and
proportions; a quality which can be observed in other maps of Piri Reis in his
Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation). Piri Reis' map is centered in the Sahara
at the Tropic of Cancer latitude. Some scholars, including Prof. Charles H.
Hapgood, have argued that the Piri Reis map might also be the oldest surviving
map of Antarctica, despite being drawn more than 3 centuries before the
official discovery of that continent.
In 1528 Piri Reis drew a second world map, of which a small fragment showing
Greenland and North America from Labrador and Newfoundland in the north to
Florida, Cuba and parts of Central America in the south still survives.
Piri began to serve in the Ottoman navy when he was young, in 1481, following
his uncle Kemal Reis, a well-known seafarer of the time. He participated in many
years of fighting against Spanish, Genoese and Venetian navies, including the
First Battle of Lepanto (Battle of Zonchio) in 1499 and Second Battle of Lepanto
(Battle of Modon) in 1500. When his uncle Kemal Reis died in 1511, Piri returned
to Gallipoli and began to write his book Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation).
In 1513 he produced his first world map, based on some 20 older maps and charts
which he had collected, including charts personally designed by Christopher
Columbus which his uncle Kemal Reis obtained in 1501 after capturing seven
Spanish ships off the coast of Valencia in Spain with several of Columbus'
crewmen on board.
By 1516 he was again at sea, as a ship's captain in the Ottoman fleet. He took
part in the 1516-17 campaign against Egypt, and in 1517 was able to show his
world map to Sultan Selim I. In 1521 he finished his Kitab-ı Bahriye. In 1522 he
participated in the siege of Rhodes against the Knights of St. John which ended
with the island's surrender to the Ottomans on 25 December 1522 and the
permanent departure of the Knights from Rhodes on 1 January 1523. In 1524 he
captained the ship that took the Ottoman Grand Vizier Makbul Ibrahim Pasha to
Egypt. Following the Vizier's advice, he edited his book and was able to present
it to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1525. Three years later he presented
his second world map to Suleiman.
By 1547, Piri had risen to the rank of Reis (admiral) and was in command of the
Ottoman fleet in the Indian Ocean and admiral of the fleet in Egypt,
headquartered at Suez. On 26 February 1548 he recaptured Aden from the
Portuguese, followed in 1552 by the capture of Muscat, which Portugal had
occupied since 1507, and the important island of Kish. Turning further east,
Piri Reis captured the island of Hormuz in the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance
of the Persian Gulf. When the Portuguese turned their attention to the Persian
Gulf, Piri Reis occupied the Qatar peninsula and the island of Bahrain to
deprive the Portuguese of suitable bases on the Arabian coast.
He then returned to Egypt, an old man approaching the age of 90. When he refused
to support the Ottoman governor of Basra, Kubad Pasha, in another campaign
against the Portuguese in the northern Persian Gulf, Piri Reis was publicly
beheaded in 1554 or 1555.
Several warships and submarines of the Turkish Navy have been named after Piri
Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation): 1521 and 1525
Kitab-ı Bahriye is one of the most famous premodern books of navigation. The
book contains detailed information on the major ports, bays, gulfs, capes,
peninsulas, islands, straits and ideal shelters of the Mediterranean Sea, as
well as techniques of navigation and navigation-related information on
astronomy. The book also contains information about the local people of each
country and city, and the curious aspects of their culture. Kitab-ı Bahriye was
originally written between 1511 and 1521, but it was revised with additional
information and better-crafted charts between 1524 and 1525 in order to be
presented as a gift to Suleiman the Magnificent. Piri Reis drew these charts
during his travels around the Mediterranean Sea with his uncle Kemal Reis. The
revised edition of 1525 has a total of 434 pages and contains 290 maps.
Kitab-ı Bahriye has two main sections, with the first section dedicated to
information about the types of storms, techniques of using a compass, portolan
charts with detailed information on ports and coastlines, methods of finding
direction using the stars, characteristics of the major oceans and the lands
around them. Special emphasis is given to the discoveries in the New World by
Christopher Columbus and those of Vasco da Gama and the other Portuguese seamen
on their way to India and the rest of Asia.
The second section is entirely composed of portolan charts and cruise guides.
Each topic contains the map of an island or coastline. In the first book (1521),
this section has a total of 132 portolan charts, while the second book (1525)
has a total of 210 portolan charts. The second section starts with the
description of the Dardanelles Strait and continues with the islands and
coastlines of the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, Adriatic Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Ligurian
Sea, the French Riviera, the Balearic Islands, the coasts of Spain, the Strait
of Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, the coasts of North Africa, Egypt and the
River Nile, the Levant and the coastline of Anatolia. This section also includes
descriptions and drawings of the famous monuments and buildings in every city,
as well as biographic information about Piri Reis who also explains the reasons
why he preferred to collect these charts in a book instead of drawing a single
map, which would not be able to contain so much information and detail.
Copies of the Kitab-ı Bahriye are found in many libraries and museums around the
Copies of the first edition (1521) are found in the Topkapı Palace, Nuruosmaniye
Library and Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul, Library of the University of
Bologna, National Library of Vienna, State Library of Dresden, National Library
of Paris, British Museum in London, Bodleian Library in Oxford and the Walters
Art Museum in Baltimore.
Copies of the second edition (1525) are found in the Topkapı Palace, Köprülüzade
Fazıl Ahmed Paşa Library and Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul and the National
Library of Paris.