Islamic Geographers - Medieval Islamic Empire
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Islamic Geographers

Islamic map
al-Idrisi's map of the world (1100s AD)

September 2016 - Many people in the Islamic Empire were rich enough to send their sons to college, and so the big university at Alexandria in Egypt stayed open, though it moved to the new town of Cairo. A new university also opened up in Baghdad, near ancient Babylon (modern Iraq), and there were smaller universities in Tunis (in Tunisia near ancient Carthage), Cordova (Spain), Fez (Morocco), and other cities.

At these universities, geographers kept working on drawing better maps of the world, following in the work of the earlier Egyptian geographer Ptolemy. Can you see how this map represents Europe, Asia, and Africa? North is toward the bottom of the map. The big land mass at the top is Africa. Under Africa to the right is the Mediterranean Sea, and below that is Europe. Under Africa to the left is the Indian Ocean, and between them the Arabian Peninsula. At the far left are India and China. Compare this map to a modern map. Is it accurate? Would it be useful to travelers?


Get your own map of the world!

One very famous Arabic-speaking geographer from North Africa was al Idrisi, who worked in map-making (among other things) in the 1100s AD. He was followed in the 1300s AD by another North African geographer, Ibn Battuta.

Learn by doing: draw a map of the world today and compare it to this medieval map
More about al-Idrisi
More about Ibn Battuta

Bibliography and further reading about Islamic geography:

Islamic historians
Islamic philosophers
More about the Islamic Empire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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