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Metaphysical Maps


All maps are metaphysical; they deal with issues beyond accuracy. Maps don’t just tell us how to get somewhere; they tell us where we are, and in so doing, pass judgment on reality.

Take, for instance, the map above, drawn in 1460 by the Italian monk Fra Mauro in Venice and sent to Portugal’s King Afonso V.

For its time, the map is remarkably accurate and complete; it even includes information based on Chinese geography of the period–and is thus one of the first western maps to include the Japanese Islands. Of course, it has its mistakes–for instance, a river flowing from the center of Africa into the Red Sea. Be that as it may, a copy of the map was sent to Prince Henry the Navigator, and played an important role in his decision to continue funding maritime exploration.


But Fra Mauro’s map tells us so much more. It is beautiful; one could not fairly represent God’s creation in any other way–and Jerusalem lies near the middle of the earth. There is a unity and coherence missing in today’s maps, which inevitably leave the north and south poles as an afterthought. And the map is drawn with its up-side representing south–this following the Muslim convention. After all, which way is up?

The map is roughly 6 feet in diameter and framed in wood.

Fra Mauro’s map is inviting, a representation of the world’s wonders, both known and not, and offers lessons today to mapmakers struggling to depict the facts, difficulties, and promise that we face.


Map: author: Piero Falchetta. Bottom: Detail of the Fra Mauro Map. Both images: WikiCmns; Public Domain.


  1. February 3, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    I love maps and have found that the changes in modern mapping with satellite technology don’t take away that fascination. Sometimes I zoom in on somewhere random using Googlemaps and feel like an adventurer. It is still metaphysical.

  2. February 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    JP: i guess i’m being a bit too harsh on modern mapmakers–it’s always a tough job & now they have to deal with a staggering amount of data…and certainly the photos of earth beamed back from space are inspiring. i need to check out more maps & get a taste for what’s being produced these days… RT

  3. February 3, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Reblogged this on You Must – in Stardust and commented:
    All I can really say is AWESOME!

  1. April 8, 2013 at 11:36 pm
  2. May 31, 2013 at 12:29 am
  3. August 22, 2013 at 5:59 pm

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