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Lost Maps of the CaliphsDrawing the World in Eleventh-Century Cairo$
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Yossef Rapoport and Emilie Savage-Smith

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226540887

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226553405.001.0001

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The Nile, the Mountain of the Moon, and the White Sand Dunes

The Nile, the Mountain of the Moon, and the White Sand Dunes

(p.101) Chapter Four The Nile, the Mountain of the Moon, and the White Sand Dunes
Lost Maps of the Caliphs

Yossef Rapoport

Emilie Savage-Smith

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the evolving representation of the Nile, a dominant feature of all Islamic world maps. The map of the Nile in the Book of Curiosities bear close resemblance to the map of the Nile by al-Khwarazmi, included in the oldest extant set of Islamic maps. This map furnishes further proof that our author was using a prototype associated with a Late Antique map maintaining elements of mathematical geography. The depictions of the Nile in the Book of Curiosities also introduce two revolutionary ideas about the origins of the Nile. One is the visual representation of a western tributary of the Nile that originates in sand dunes in West Africa. The second novel feature is a mountain near the Equator. The mountain’s melting snow is said to be the source of the Nile floods, an explanation that is as close as medieval scholars ever got to the true reason for the Nile’s annual cycle. Through extensive re-working by the North African geographer Idrisi a century later, these two novel elements would become a permanent feature of later cartographic representations of the Nile.

Keywords:   Nile, Ptolemy, al-Khwarazmi, mathematical geography, Idrisi, Copts

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