Medieval Maps – The Sawley Map

The Sawley Map is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the medieval drawing exhibit, “Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages.”

The museum has a post about it on its blog, along with an image of the map. According to the post, the map was “created by a twelfth-century English monk … the first image in a book called the Imago Mundi (Image of the World), a kind of medieval encyclopedia. A rare early example of a detailed world map, the Sawley Map places the Mediterranean Sea at its center, Paradise at the top, and Africa and the British Isles at its edges.”

I sat and studied the map for a few minutes but had a difficult time deciphering the various landmarks. I might have to spend more time looking over it. The larger version of the image posted on the site is extremely clear, but at first glance, it’s challenging to interpret. Might help if I spoke some latin. I did find Rome.

5 thoughts on “Medieval Maps – The Sawley Map”

  1. That map is very fascinating. At first I thought the top would be North, but the more I looked at it, the more it appeared to be east.

    After I printed it out and colored the water blue, I turned it sideways—it actually wasn’t a half bad rendering of the known world! Things are out of proportion, but not as bad as I had thought initially.

    It even has the tower of Babel on the map, and it looks like the Orkney Isles are there, too. The interesting thing is that Paradise looks like it’s right where Japan would be!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. It is fascinating. I see what you’re saying now. I think I need to print it out like you did. Where did you see the Orkney Isles?

  3. Actually I’ve changed my mind about the location of Paradise. I see that there is a river leading to it called the Gangei, and if that’s the Ganges river, then Paradise is the island of Sri Lanka off of India. Or maybe its Australia—the map *is* out of proportion.

    And the islands I guessed were the Orkneys in fact are. When I zoomed in, it says:


    And, yes, it is possible, if I remember right, that this name is related to Tolkien’s “orc”. The island of Orcs! Hah!

    This island looks like a circle just north (relatively so) of Britain and Hibernia. Around this circle are a bunch of smaller circles to denote a group of islands.

    This map is worth hours of fun. It’s like a puzzle.

  4. I see the Orkney’s now, but I can’t make out the names of Sweden or Norway. You’ve been able to decipher a lot more of it that I have. You can definitely kill a lot time looking at this thing.

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