Piri Reis drew the oldest map of America in existence. He was also the author of the "Kitab-i Bahriye" (Book of Navigation) which was more comprehensive than any previous portolan manual.
As well as being an outstanding cartographer and navigator. Piri Reis was a pirate and admiral who made his mark on Ottoman naval history. The nephew of the reowned Turkish pirate and admiral Kemal Reis. He was born in Gallipoli between 1465 and 1470 and raised in this city of seamen.
Kemal Reis served as naval commander of the small fleet at Egriboz before embarking on a career of piracy with Burak Reis and Kara Hasan Reis. The three corsairs used the island of Jerba in the Mediterranean as a base for their ships. As a young boy Piri Reis went to sea with his uncle, and until 1492 they preyed on shipping the western Mediterranean. The Moors of Granada were in retreat, and Kemal Reis assisted in the evacuation of Muslim refugees from Spain to North Africa, as well as fight against the Spanish. Throughout all this time Piri Reis is known to have been serving with his unlce.
Kemal Reis and Piri Reis abandoned this life of piracy upon being invited to Sultan Beyazid II (1481-1512) to reenter the service of Ottman navy. They fought in the naval battles of Lepanto, Methoni, Koroni, Mitylene, and Rhodes. The poet Safai describes the heroism of Piri Reis during the battle to capture fortress of Methoni in 1500, in his "Fetihname-i Inebahti ve Muton".
Upon the death of Kemal Reis in 1510, Piri Reis returned to Gallipoli, where he began to write his "Kitab-i Bahriye". In 1517 he served as admiral in the Egyptian campaign of Selim I, and presented the world map which he had completed in 1513 to the sultan. During this period he also accompanied his cousin Muhiddin Reis, one of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha’s famous captains, on campaigns in the Mediterranean, but subsequently devoted the most of his time mapmaking and writing "Kitab-i Bahriye" in Gallipoli. The poet Muradi’s reference to him as Piri Kethuda indicates that he served as steward of the shipyard during those years. In 1524 he was appointed pilot toan Ottoman fleet under Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, sent by Sultan Suleyman The Magnificent to quell the rebellion of Hain Ahmed Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt. Folloving this vayage he rowrote "Kitab-i Bahriye" in its finished form and presented it to Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in 1526. Two years later he presented his second world map to the same sultan.
Piri Reis’s final period of active service with Ottoman navy was as Commander of Egypt, an episode whicgh ended in tragedy. Having engaged the Portuguese off Yemen and captured Aden in 1547, Piri Reis took Muscat a second expedition in 1552. He proceeded to lay siege to the island of Hormuz, which controlled entry to the strategic Persian Gulf, but lifted the siege after being warned that a superior Portuguese fleet was coming to aid of the fortress. Leaving the fleet in Basra for repairs, he sailed with three whips for Suez, reaching the port with the loss of one ship in 1553. When he reached Egypt he was imprisoned and unjustly condemned to death for failure to perform his duty by the machinations of Kubat Pasha, Governor of Basra, whose enmity he had aroused by refusing to cede a share of the spoils of war. Kubat Pasha’s were unheld by the new Viceroy of Egypt Mehmed Pasha for political reasons, and Piri Reis was executed in 1554 at over 80 years of age.
The First Map Drawn By Piri Reis
Piri Reis’s first world map was discovered at Topkapi Palace in 1929. The map was studied by the German orientalist, Prof. Paul Kalhe, who was doing research in Istanbul at the time, and he reported on the map to eighteent Congres of Oriental Studies in Leiden in 1931. Meanwhile, the map was taken to Ankara for study by historians, and Ataturk ordered a facsimile reproduction of the map to be printed.
The map is drawn on camel skin, with illustrations in nine different colours. It’s 86 cm long, 61 cm wide at the upper edge and 41 cm wide at the lower edge. The right hand section of the map has been torn away, leaving a ragged edge. The discrepancy in width between upper and lower edges, however, is due to natural shape of the skin. The remaining half of the map shows the east and west coasts of Atlantic Ocean. The coastlines of North and South America, the Antilles, Northwest Africa, Spain and France corresponded closely to modern maps.
The map is a typical nautical chart, with the lines of latitude and longtude shown by means of compass roses. It is attractively illustrated with mythical and realistic pictures, including a number of ships, most of which are Portuguese caravels, a number of parrots, which Piri Reis refers to as "tuti birds", are depicted on the island of Antilles. As well as place names, the chart is annotated with accounts of exploration , mythical information , and explanations of how the map was compiled. The beautiful executed decoration confirms the map was specifically drawn as a gift for the Ottoman sultan.
The number of compass roses is proof that the original map depicted the world. The standard portalan chart has 17 compass roses, whereas the survivng fragment of Piri Reis’s map has only five, indicating that the remaining 12 were on the now lost sections which were torn off. Moreover, in the account of his sources inscribe over South America, Piri has written "This section decribes the way in which this map is executed. No such map exist in our age. Your humble servant is its author and brought it into being. It is based mainly on twenty charts and mappa mundi, one of which was drawn in the time of Alexander The Great, and is known to the Arabs as Caferiye. This map is the results of comparison with eight such caferiye maps, one Arab map of India and China, and also the map of the western land drawn by Colombus; such that map of the seven seas is as accurate and reliable as the latter map of this region."
The note above this decribes the dicovery of America , concluding with the words,"These lanbs and islads are all drawn from map of Columbus." Again in his Kitab-i Bahriye where he is decribing the descovery of the Antilles, Piri Reis writes, "I came into possesion of this map..."
Columbus made four vayages to America between 1492 and 1504, yet none of the maps he drew of the western coast of the Atlantic survived. Moreover, of all the maps drawn over the period follwing the dicovery of America by Columbus, the most accurate is that of Piri Reis.
Neither the world map drawn in 1500 by Juan de la Cosa, who accompanied Columbus as a guide on his second vayage, nor those drawn by Contarini in 1506 and Martin Waldseemuller in 1507 (the latter being the first to show North and South America was a separate continent from Asia) correspond so closely to modern maps as that Piri Reis. Prof. C. Hapgood has conducted a study in which he compares Piri Reis’s map to an azimuthal equidistant projection of the world centred near Cairo, based on aerial photograps taken by American Air Force. The correlation between this and Piri Reis’s map is startling, and illustrates the perfection of his projection system. Erich Von Daniken takes tkis as evidence for his sensational claim that Piri Reis’s map was based on photographs taken from spaceships. Certainly the presence of the mountains of Antartica on the map is an enigma, since the existence f these mountains was only dicovered in 1951 by means of reflecting sound waves through the glaciers which cover them. This could be explained by the fact that sailors depend considerably on landmarks for setting their positions. Hence they would take note of the shape of the skyline when sailing in unknown waters, and reports of the silhouette of Antartica may have led Piri Reis to mark mountains here, even though hidden under layers of ice.