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Map Makers & Explorers

mallorcan mapmakers and explorersMallorca was at the centre of the Mediterranean trade routes in the 14th and 15th Centuries as ships plied their trade between what are now France, Spain and Italy. The Majorcan cartographic school (which is also known as the Catalan school) was made up of men who drew maps, studied the stars and made navigation instruments.

mallorcan mapmakers and explorersThe Kingdom of Mallorca was annexed to the Crown of Aragon in 1344 as it expanded across the Mediterranean. While the map makers were mainly Jewish or Conversos (Jews who had converted under duress), they were able to apply scientific thinking to their maps without the same interference from the Church as map makers on the mainland.

Some have credited the Mallorcan map makers with the invention of a new detailed chart called the Portolan Chart during the first half of the 14th Century (some say the Italian map makers invented the chart and the Mallorcans developed it). For the first time sea captains had a realistic chart rather than a schematic drawing to navigate, making trading and exploration much safer. While Italian charts were sparse affairs with only the coast lines detailed, the Mallorca versions were covered with drawings and information. The Mallorcan cartographers were interested in all aspects of navigations and while some also made nautical instruments, others studied astrology and astronomy.

mallorcan mapmakers and explorersAngelino Dulcert's chart, dating from 1339 chart, is the earliest surviving section. John I of Aragon appointed Abraham Cresques the Master of Maps and Compasses in the 1370's and he worked on a special map with his son Jehuda or Jafudà Cresques. The map became known as the famous Catalan Atlas of 1375 and it changed the way sailors navigated. The map covered the perimeter of the Mediterranean Sea and from England in the north, to the African coast in the south and was coveted by kings and sea captains alike. Charles VI of France asked for the Catalan Atlas and it is in Bibliothèque nationale de France.

While Cresques's work was highly sought after, he was forced to convert to Christianity followed the persecution of the Mallorcan Jews in 1391. He decided to stay on the island and while he took the name Jacobus Ribes, he was known as the Map Jew and the Compass Jew. Some believe he may have been Master Jacobus who moved to Portugal in the 1420s to train map-makers. He may have even been appointed as head of Henry the Navigator's school at Sagres.

mallorcan mapmakers and explorersFurther persecutions of the Jews by the Inquisition forced later map makers to emigrate or give up work until there were none left. But their memory lives on with the statue of Jafudà Cresques in Temple Plaza near the site of his house (see the Santa Eulalia and Temple webpage of the Palma City section). The statue was sculptured by Maria Isabel Ballester and unveiled in 2007. There is also a memorial on Palma's quayside (see the El Terrano webpage of the Palma Outskirts section).

Many Mallorca sea captains sailed out of the Bay of Palma loaded with goods, heading for ports around the Mediterranean. One man, however, was not looking for the best price for his cargo, he was looking in search of new lands. While you will have heard of Christopher Columbus, the Genoan (or some say, the Mallorcan) explorer, who made four trips to the New World between 1492 and 1501, the Mallorcan Jaume Ferrer was discovering Africa over a century earlier.

Ferrer arrived in Palma in 1343 in a boat from Bruges, in modern day Belgium, and three years later headed south to explore the western coast of Africa. His exploits were recorded on the Catalan map as reaching the River of Gold, 500 miles south of the Canary Islands. The area is now known as the Western Sahara. Jaume Ferrer's statue stands in Drassana Plaza (or Dockyard Square) behind the Consulat del Mar (see the Saint Peter's webpage in the Palma City section). A memorial to the Mallorcan explorers, in the shape of Cresques's drawing stands on Palma's quayside (see the El Terrano webpage of the Palma Outskirts section).

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