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Lecture in London: Special Maps of Persia

A lecture by Dr. Cyrus Alai, focusing on the history of the political maps of Persia up to the early parts of the 20th century.

27 January 2011, 7 - 9 pm
Brunei Lecture Theatre, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Russell Square, London

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Organised by Iran Heritage Foundation & London Middle East Institute at SOAS


Since ancient times Iran or Persia as it was known in the West, has been mapped extensively. The world's oldest known topographical map is a clay tablet from 2300 BC, showing a part of western Persia. Persian geographers, like Balkhi, Estakhri, Zakariya Qazvini and others, were the main contributors to the thriving field of cartography throughout the early Islamic period (eighth to fourteenth centuries). Ptolemy's fifth map of Asia, which depicts Persia, appeared in all the 59 editions of Geographia, published between 1477 and 1730. Gastaldi produced the first post-Ptolemaic map of Persia in 1559 in Venice, which served as the basis of many later maps for about a century. The first notable innovation in this field came to light when Olearius in his New Map of Persia (1646) changed the Ptolemaic oval shape of the Caspian Sea to an upright rectangle, correcting the latitude of the Northern provinces. His map influenced the cartography of Persia for seven decades, until a full Russian survey of the Caspian was carried out in 1720. Dutch, French and German cartographers were all active in mapping Persia. However, it was their British counterparts who succeeded during the nineteenth century to improve the mapping of Persia considerably, based on new surveys, including those carried out by the Survey of India. Some of these maps were politically motivated, showing Baluchistan as a separate state until 1872, when the Goldsmid Commission settled the eastern boundaries of the country. The Pahlavis established several new cartographic institutions in Iran, as a result of which numerous modern maps of the country and its provinces were produced locally from 1930s until the present time. Dr. Alai in his lecture focuses on the political maps of Iran, closely examining the ambitions and intrigues of their subtle and complex world view.

Cyrus Alai was born in Iran and received his PhD degree (Dr.-Ing.) from the Technische Universitaet, Berlin-Charlottenburg. He completed the Executive controls Program - a management course - at the University of Syracuse, USA, and lectured at the University of Tehran for eight years. He settled later in the United Kingdom working as a consulting engineer and studying the history of cartography in his free time. He served nine years as the honorary treasurer of the International Map collector's society and wrote numerous articles on the cartography of Persia and the traditional cartography of classical Islamic societies. His articles (in English and Persian) appeared in several prestigious cartographic and cultural periodicals, such as: Map Collector, IMCoS Journal, Mercator's World Portolan, Journal of the Iran Society, Iranshenasi (Persian), etc. The entry 'Geography iv, Cartography of Persia' in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, has been written by him. He also collects old maps of Persia and owns perhaps the largest personal collection of such maps. He is the author ofGeneral Maps of Persia, 1477-1925 (2005) and Special Maps of Persia, 1477-1925 (2010).

Admission Free


The Iran Heritage Foundation, 5 Stanhope Gate, London W1K 1AH
Tel: +44 (20) 74934766
Fax: +44 (20) 74999293
London Middle East Institute, SOAS ,Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG
Tel: +44 (20) 7898 4490, Mr Vincenzo Paci-Delton

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