Home / Funny / Viral / 15-Century Monk Creates Shockingly Accurate Map Through Crowdsourcing Information


One might assume that it was practically impossible to accurately map the contours of continents and seashores prior to satellites and aviation. But sometimes, a thorough study by itself could yield surprisingly accurate, practical maps of the world. A medieval monk by the name of Fra Mauro defied cartographic convention in the fifteenth century by painstakingly creating a massive eight-by-eight-foot map of the world as it existed at the time. This Mappa Mundi (World Map), made for King Afonso V of Portugal, includes over 3,000 locations in Africa, Europe, and Asia. The boundaries of this world are fairly accurate to the actual boundaries of the land, despite the fact that some may have fantastical stories and illustrations.

Fra Mauro was born circa 1400, and he travelled on merchant and military vessels for a portion of his early years. Afterwards, he was ordained as a monk at the Monastery of St. Michael, a Camaldolese order outpost situated on the Venetian island of Murano. He started working there after receiving an order to draw a world map for the Portuguese king. According to Atlas Obscura, the map was basically "crowd-sourced" like medieval Google Maps and was finished around 1450. The monk actively sought out knowledge and legends about the remote regions of the then-known world from sailors, traders, soldiers, and pilgrims because he lived in a hub of active Mediterranean trade. Then, with some help, he assembled them into a map.

The map was created "upside down," so it's possible that someone won't immediately identify the continents. The southern coast of Africa, Scandinavia, and the outer edge of what is now Russia stretch to the ends of the world. There are ships in the choppy waters all the way to India, some with Chinese labels. A little over 3,000 cities and locations have labels and illustrations. Troglodytes, seven-headed serpents, or gold lakes accompany some of them.

The monk made note of his disbelief in various places, indicating that he did not accept every legend that he was told. Remarkably, this is the first map of Europe to accurately show Japan as an island. Additionally, it rejects some Biblical myths by not putting the Garden of Eden and its occupants at the center of the universe. Fra Mauro's map is particularly remarkable for its accuracy, especially when compared to the Hereford Mappa Mundi, which was made some 150 years earlier. 

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