I’ve just been in Rome where I was lucky enough to see some huge maps painted in the 1580s on the walls outside the offices of the Papal foreign office. They form a kind of mural atlas covering all the known world – and quite a lot that was then unknown! The Vatican diplomats of old could just pop out of their offices to check where a place was by looking at these amazing frescoes. But I hope they didn’t rely on them too heavily.
These old maps reveal dramatically the state of geographical ignorance at that time:
The Pacific basin is almost a complete blank and most of what’s shown is either in the wrong place or just plain imaginary.
At the southern end of South America the Straits of Magellan are duly shown – no big surprise since Magellan had sailed through them in 1520. But where is…
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