Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ten Cities 7) Cairo

Becket, December 23, 2012

Piri Reis--the Ottoman admiral of the 16th century--was an exquisite mapmaker.  He is best known for some of the earliest world maps including the American continent (yes, he was a contemporary of Martin Waldeseemüller, the German cartographer that first labeled the continent after Amerigo Vespucci.)  Piri also drew some remarkable maps of cities around the Mediterranean.

His 1525 map of Cairo shows the city right at the beginning of the Ottoman rule, so it's more or less the the city left by the Mamluk Sultanate after 250 of energetic urban development.  Like so many maps of Cairo, the drawing is prominently crossed from top to bottom by the Nile, with a hint of its delta at the bottom (means that north is down.)  It shows a large, dense, and heavily fortified agglomeration some distance away to the east of the river.  A number of major monuments appear prominently, including Salah al-Din's Citadel towards the south, and the aqueduct that reaches the Nile at the great tower built by al-Nasir Muhammad in the early 1300's.  My guess it that the big domed structure south of the Citadel is the Ibn Tulun Mosque, but I could be wrong.  No doubt about the three pyramids of Giza on the western side of the Nile.

(By the way, and this is definitely a non sequitur, as an admiral in the Ottoman Navy, Piri fought in Lepanto.  That means that on the day of that battle, our mapmaker coincided, even if in opposite sides, with Miguel de Cervantes, the author of "Don Quijote".)

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