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  • Da Ming Hunyi Tu Map, 1389 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#6) Da Ming Hunyi Tu Map, 1389

    In China, medieval mapmakers produced the Da Ming Hunyi Tu, also known as the Composite Map of the Ming Empire, in 1389. The map, a full 15 feet wide, was painted on silk and showed the entire world as known to the Ming. It was also produced at a time of upheaval for China, when the Mongol Yuan rulers had only recently been expelled. In the late 1300s, China balanced between an international outlook, which had been promoted by Mongol rulers, and a more internal focus, promoted by more conservative factions. 

    Much of the knowledge in the Da Ming Hunyi Tu came from China’s many contacts with Muslim cartographers and intellectuals, and the place names on the western borders of the map are derived from Arabic names.

    China would send out the voyager Zheng He to explore the world for nearly three decades in the early 1400s. But after his passing, Ming emperors decided to stop voyages of exploration and focus on China. As they argued, “barbarian” nations offered little of value to China’s prosperity.

  • Hereford Mappa Mundi, Circa 1300 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#8) Hereford Mappa Mundi, Circa 1300

    The Hereford mappa mundi shows what the simplified T-O structure looks like with more geographical details. This map, made around 1300, has been in England’s Hereford Cathedral for 700 years, capturing a medieval view of the world. Medieval and biblical history mingle on the map, which includes over 500 illustrations of people, animals, cities, and towns; 15 biblical events; and an array of strange creatures, odd people, and mythological images. 

    The variety in the Hereford mappa mundi points to its intended use: It is a visual chronicle of knowledge, mixing time and space to stun viewers with the scope of the world. And it’s no mistake that the Hereford mappa mundi is housed in a cathedral - it’s also a religious object meant to educate Christians on their place in the world.

  • T-O Map From Isidore Of Seville's 'Etymologies,' Circa 600 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#1) T-O Map From Isidore Of Seville's 'Etymologies,' Circa 600

    Many medieval world maps followed the same general style, known as the T-O map. These maps showed the three known continents in a T-shape, ringed by an O of water - sort of like the Trivial Pursuit wedge of the world. This simplified version of a medieval world map emphasizes the simple shape of the world in its lines.

    Asia is shown at the top of the map, with Europe and Africa below. The Mediterranean, the Nile, and the River Don make up the water separating the continents. 

    This style of map, which didn’t prioritize accuracy, was meant to highlight the harmonious balance between the continents. It was also clearly a religious map: Jerusalem was at the center, and mapmakers often included religiously significant items, such as Noah’s Ark or the Earthly Paradise. 

  • Ebstorf Map, Circa 1234 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#9) Ebstorf Map, Circa 1234

    The king of medieval religious maps is the Ebstorf Map, made in the 1230s. It was rediscovered 600 years later, in the 19th century, in a convent in Ebstorf, a small town in Germany. The map takes the typical T-O format, with Asia at the top and Europe and Africa below. It is also the largest known medieval map, measuring nearly 12 feet across. It is so enormous that the map was drawn on 30 goatskins.

    The most startling feature of the map, besides its size, is the curious image at the top, sides, and bottom of the map. Look closely, and you’ll spot hands and feet sticking out of the Earth, and a head perched at the top of the map. The figure is Jesus; the world, according to the unknown mapmaker, is literally the body of Christ. 

    The time, money, and effort that went into creating this medieval map were all erased in 1943 during a WWII air raid on Hanover, when the original map met its end. 

  • Itinerary Map By Matthew Paris, Circa 1250s on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#4) Itinerary Map By Matthew Paris, Circa 1250s

    At first glance, this medieval itinerary map by Matthew Paris doesn’t even look like a map. Instead, it’s a line of castles and buildings crossed by red text and blue waves. The map charts a route from London to the Holy Land, highlighting all the sights along the way. The mapmaker included rivers and hills, alternate routes, and places to stop on a religious pilgrimage. 

    At the bottom left of the map, you can see Matthew Paris’s depiction of London as a thick city wall ringing a blue church. 

    Like many medieval maps, this one was not intended to be carried on the road. It was an expensive work of art that may have been used for an imagined pilgrimage - one where the pilgrim never had to leave England.

  • Tabula Peutingeriana, 1265 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#3) Tabula Peutingeriana, 1265

    The Tabula Peutingeriana, an itinerary map, is a reproduction of a Roman map, showing the highways of the Roman world all the way from England to Sri Lanka. It isn’t to scale and manipulates space to show the road system. Pictured are stopping places, prominent towns, and mountain ranges.

    The Tabula Peutingeriana is also massive at 22 feet in length. At that size, it wouldn’t be useful for a road trip, but with 555 cities and 3,500 place names, it is a chronicle of Rome’s reach.

    The map’s geographic information dates back to before at least 79 AD, since you can spot Pompeii. The original map has been lost, but we still have a copy thanks to a monk who reproduced it on 11 scrolls in 1265. 

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About This Tool

In the Middle Ages, people did not have map consciousness. As a new civilized world is being formed, the concept of maps that once existed in the Greco-Roman era is gradually dying out. Although some ancient Roman world maps were preserved until the early Middle Ages, they apparently disappeared as slowly as the dying classical traditions and knowledge, which also led to the production of strange maps at that time.

The knowledge and techniques of scientific mapping were not rediscovered until the 15th and 16th centuries. The random tool shows 12 weird maps of the Middle Ages that you must be interested in.

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