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Publication of Old Maps of Persia (Iran) in The Netherlands


By Pejman Akbarzadeh
Persian Gulf Online Organization Rep. in Tehran

In the course of history, the Persian Empire has been extensively mapped by well-known cartographers of the world. However, the absence of a good carto-bibliography with adequate descriptions of such maps has always been deeply felt not only by scholars but by friends of the history and geography of Persia as well.

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Fortunately, Brill Academic Publishers of The Netherlands has recently succeeded to publish a superb book, entitled: "General Maps of Persia", with 330 pages, making such a work available. The same publisher had previously printed a range of atlases of the old maps of South-East Asia, Middle Asia and the Islamic world.

This book has been written by Cyrus Alai, a Persian (Iranian) consulting engineer and a scholar, living in London. He was born in Tehran, graduated from the Technical University of Berlin and lectured at the University of Tehran for eight years. Dr. Alai, when returning to Europe, collected old maps of Persia and studied the history of cartography, alongside his engineering work. The entry on Cartography of Persia in the Encyclopedia Iranica has been written by him.

Peter Barber, the Head of the Map Library / British Library writes: "It [this book] is most informative and clearly set out and looks lovely too – it seems destined for the scholar's library, the collector's bookshelf and the amateur's coffee table: a very rare achievement." Tony Campbell from the Maphist(ory) discussion group states: "Whether you are an interested amateur, a cartographic historian or a librarian, you can be assured that will have seen nothing like this book before…These maps are in different ways a potent symbol of the Iranian national identity."

The book has been arranged in two main sections. The first section 'Ptolemaic maps of Persia' begins with an historical background and includes information about the life and work of Ptolemy. The 'Fifth Map of Asia', which represents Persia, has been discussed in detail, supported by depicting several different editions of the above-mentioned Ptolemy's map.

The second section, covering other general and regional maps of Persia, has been divided into ten sub-sections according to the countries in which they have been produced: Italian, Dutch, French, Germanic, British, Russian, American, Persian, Turkish and Spanish/Portuguese maps. It closes with a curiosity map, showing Persia as a Persian cat.

The book contains more than 400 map entries and 200 illustrations. It seems that all the important general maps of Persia from the early editions of Ptolemy at the end of the fifteenth century until 1925, when the Qajar dynasty was overthrown, have been covered. At the end of each entry, further details concerning editions and variations, other related maps, historical notes and unique or important features are provided.

The large number of indexes at the end of the book should enable scholars and librarians to identify any map of Persia with ease. This book, with its beautiful design and a perfect balance between history and geography, will appeal not only to scholars, but to a wide range of readers.

An important fact for Persians (Iranians), particularly the scientific society of the country, is that the author has rescued many maps of Persia from obscurity. As Cyrus Alai states: "It should be noted that those scientific works published by well-known international academic publishers, like Brill, will reach every geographic and cartographic institution, foundation for oriental studies and major libraries worldwide. Thus, apart from helping scholars of the history and geography of Iran, this book will be a good presenter of the glorious culture of Persia."

We should also remember Mr. Abbas Sahab, who in 1975 for the first time produced an atlas in black-and-white, containing some of the old maps of Persia.

 Regarding the terms "Persia" and "Iran" in Western languages see: (in Persian) or (in English)


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