Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara

Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara Facsimile Edition

Alexandria (Egypt) — 1497

The largest surviving portolan map in the world, illuminated with magnificent colors and gold leaf: the Mediterranean Sea in the amazing precision of the most important Egyptian cartographer of the Renaissance, Iehuda ben Zara

  1. The largest surviving portolan chart in the world originated ca. 1407 in Alexandria

  2. The most famous Egyptian geographer of the Renaissance, Iehuda ben Zara, used high quality colors and gold leaf

  3. The map shows the Mediterranean with precision that is still quite amazing today

Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara

The Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara was produced in the ancient city of Alexandria in 1497. It is the largest surviving portolan chart in the world and records important nautical information in various colors. Aside from practical information for navigators including flags, compass roses, wind directions, and known perils, the map is richly embellished with cities, tents, people, animals, trees, and other delightful details that bring the Mediterranean world in the late-15th century to life. Influences from the famous Mallorcan school of mapmakers can also be found in the work. This precious nautical chart was additionally adorned with elements of gold leaf by the Jewish master Lehuda Ben Zara.

Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara

The term “portolan” originally indicates a book with nautical information such as landmarks, light houses, currents, and harbor conditions. The employment of this term is first documented in the year 1285. From the 16th century on, the meaning of this term was expanded and henceforth included not only the text of the work, but also the accompanying sea charts. Today the specialized sea charts denote a specific type as “portolan charts.” An example of this is the Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara. The colorful and gold-adorned chart** is one of the most valuable maps in the Vatican Library today.

A Masterwork of Nautical Science

The Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zaraarose ca. 1497 and is the largest portolan chart still in existence. The rare chart was painted with the utmost precision on the skin of a single animal. It shows the world, as it was known by the educated of the Renaissance. A primary feature is the visible network of lines that aided maneuvering by means of a compass. Dangerous passages were highlighted by the chart and commented on with inscriptions like “Pay Attention!” or “Eyes Open!” The sea map bespeaks the high aptitude of the master, who worked unbelievably accurately and realistically without the aids and appliances of our modern technology.

High Quality Embellishment

Iehuda Ben Zara is probably the most famous Egyptian geographer of the Renaissance. He made his sea map in Alexandria, a cultural stronghold of Egypt. He employed high quality colors and gold leaf. Embarkation points are registered in various colors. Thus the commercial significance of the respective ports was indicated. The cardinal directions are recorded with black ink. He differentiated between various wind currents, which were drawn with the help of green and red lines. As a result he retained a traditional coloration that remained unchanged for many centuries.


Alternative Titles
Sea Chart of Iehuda Ben Zara
Seekarte des Iehuda ben Zara
Nautical Chart of Jehuda ben Zara
Carta Nautica di Iehuda Ben Zara
Size / Format
1 map / 92.5 × 67.0 cm
The map is decorated with figural sceneries, cityscapes, colored landmarks, various flags and banners, as well as wind roses and portrait medallions
Portolan map emphasizing the mediterranean area
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara – Borg. VII – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City) Facsimile Edition
Belser Verlag – Zurich, 1983
Detail Picture

Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara

The Egyptian Desert

Here in the lower-right corner we can see a tent and compass rose flanked by a camel carrying its rider off into the Sahara and an elephant making its way to cities on the shores of the Red Sea. It is the Egyptian desert to the south of the city. The Nile is shown flowing north to Alexandria where the map was created, alongside which a human head represents one of the classical compass winds. Artists often used margins and other open spaces to give an impression of local conditions.

Seekarte des Iehuda ben Zara
Single Page

Sea Map of Iehuda Ben Zara

Map of the Mediterranean

This splendid map of the Mediterranean, which is cut off before it reaches the coastline of the Levant; the eastern third of the Black Sea is similarly incomplete. However, the rest of the map is surprisingly accurate except for the exaggerated size of the island of Ireland. Most of the waters are uncolored save for the Red Sea, depicted literally, and the Baltic Sea, which is painted blue.

Some of the typical compass roses are replaced by portraits in profile, which all appear to depict the same person dressed in red with short, light brown hair. Aside from other typical ornaments such as cities with flags, one can see numerous palm trees as well as an accurately depicted ostrich walking along the green mountain range in North Africa as well as an elephant on the banks of the Nile River.

Seekarte des Iehuda ben Zara
Facsimile Editions

#1 Seekarte des Iehuda ben Zara

Belser Verlag – Zurich, 1983

Publisher: Belser Verlag – Zurich, 1983
Commentary: 1 volume by Arthur Dürst
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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