Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani as-Sabti, or
simply Al-Idrisi /ælɪˈdriːsiː/ (Arabic: أبو عبد الله
محمد الإدريسي القرطبي الحسني السبتي;
Latin: Dreses; 1100 – 1165), was an
Arab Muslim geographer,
cartographer and Egyptologist who lived in Palermo,
Sicily at the
King Roger II. Muhammed al-Idrisi was born in Ceuta, then
belonging to the Almoravids.
1 Early life
2 Tabula Rogeriana
2.1 Description of islands in the North Sea
2.2 Description of Chinese trade
3 Nuzhat al-Mushtaq
3.1 Publication and translation
3.2 Andalusian-American contact
4 In popular culture
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Al-Idrisi was born into the large Hammudid family of
North Africa and
Al-Andalus, which claimed descent from the
ultimately the prophet Muhammad.
Al-Idrisi was born in the city of Ceuta, where his great-grandfather
had been forced to settle after the fall of Hammudid
Málaga to the
Zirids of Granada. He spent much of his early life travelling
North Africa and
Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain of the times) and
seems to have acquired detailed information on both regions. He
Anatolia when he was barely 16. He studied in Córdoba.
His travels took him to many parts of Europe including Portugal, the
Pyrenees, the French Atlantic coast, Hungary, and
Jórvík (now known
Main article: Tabula Rogeriana
The Tabula Rogeriana, drawn by al-Idrisi for Roger II of
1154, one of the most advanced ancient world maps. Modern
consolidation, created from al-Idrisi's 70 double-page spreads, shown
upside-down as the original had South at the top.
Because of conflict and instability in
Al-Andalus al-Idrisi joined
contemporaries such as
Abu al-Salt in Sicily, where the Normans had
overthrown Arabs formerly loyal to the Fatimids.
Al-Idrisi incorporated the knowledge of Africa, the Indian Ocean and
the Far East gathered by Islamic merchants and explorers and recorded
on Islamic maps with the information brought by the Norman voyagers to
create the most accurate map of the world in pre-modern times,
which served as a concrete illustration of his Kitab nuzhat
al-mushtaq, (Latin: Opus Geographicum), which may be translated A
Diversion for the Man Longing to Travel to Far-Off Places.
Tabula Rogeriana was drawn by Al-Idrisi in 1154 for the Norman
King Roger II of Sicily, after a stay of eighteen years at his court,
where he worked on the commentaries and illustrations of the map. The
map, with legends written in Arabic, while showing the Eurasian
continent in its entirety, only shows the northern part of the African
continent and lacks details of the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia.
For Roger it was inscribed on a massive disc of solid silver, two
metres in diameter.
On the geographical work of al-Idrisi, S.P. Scott wrote in 1904:
The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not
only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but
its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative.
For three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration.
The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated
in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker
and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterwards, and their number
is the same. The mechanical genius of the author was not inferior to
his erudition. The celestial and terrestrial planisphere of silver
which he constructed for his royal patron was nearly six feet in
diameter, and weighed four hundred and fifty pounds; upon the one side
the zodiac and the constellations, upon the other-divided for
convenience into segments-the bodies of land and water, with the
respective situations of the various countries, were engraved.
Al-Idrisi inspired Islamic geographers such as Ibn Battuta, Ibn
Khaldun and Piri Reis. His map also inspired
Christopher Columbus and
Vasco Da Gama.
Description of islands in the North Sea
Al-Idrisi in his famous
Tabula Rogeriana mentioned Irlandah-al-Kabirah
(Great Ireland). According to him, "from the extremity of Iceland
to that of Great Ireland," the sailing time was "one day." Although
historians note that both al-Idrisi and the Norse tend to understate
distances, the only location this reference is thought to have
possibly pointed to, must likely have been in Greenland.
Description of Chinese trade
Al-Idrisi mentioned that Chinese junks carried leather, swords, iron
and silk. He mentions the glassware of the city of
Hangzhou and labels
Quanzhou's silk as the best. In his records of Chinese trade,
Al-Idrisi also wrote about the Silla Dynasty (one of Korea's
historical Dynasties, and a major trade partner to China at the time),
and was one of the first Arabs to do so. Al-Idrisi's references to
Silla led other
Arab merchants to seek Silla and its trade, and
contributed to many Arabs' perception of Silla as the ideal East-Asian
As well as the maps, al-Idrisi produced a compendium of geographical
information with the title Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fi'khtiraq
al-'afaq. The title has been translated as The book of pleasant
journeys into faraway lands or The pleasure of him who longs to
cross the horizons. It has been preserved in nine manuscripts,
seven of which contain maps.
The translated title of this work (in the "pleasure of him ..." form)
attracted favourable comment from the team selecting lists of names
for features expected to be discovered by the New Horizons probe
Pluto system. The
Al-Idrisi Montes is a geographical
feature in that system named after him.
In the introduction, al-Idrisi mentions two sources for geographical
Claudius Ptolemy and "an astronomer" that must be Ishaq
ibn al-Hasan al-Zayyat; and states that he has cross-checked oral
reports from different informers to see if geographical coordinates
Publication and translation
An abridged version of the Arabic text was published in Rome in 1592
with title: De geographia universali or Kitāb Nuzhat al-mushtāq fī
dhikr al-amṣār wa-al-aqṭār wa-al-buldān wa-al-juzur
wa-al-madā’ in wa-al-āfāq which in English would be Recreation of
the desirer in the account of cities, regions, countries, islands,
towns, and distant lands. This was one of the first Arabic
books ever printed. The first translation from the original Arabic
was into Latin. The Maronite's Gabriel Sionita and Joannes Hesronita
translated an abridged version of the text which was published in
Paris in 1619 with the title of Geographia nubiensis. Not until
the middle of the 19th century was a complete translation of the
Arabic text published. This was a translation into French by Pierre
Amédée Jaubert. More recently sections of the text have been
translated for particular regions. Beginning in the 1970 a critical
edition of the complete Arabic text was published.
Al-Idrisi's geographical text, Nuzhat al-Mushtaq, is often cited by
proponents of pre-Columbian Andalusian-Americas contact theories. In
this text, al-Idrisi wrote the following on the Atlantic Ocean:
The Commander of the Muslims Ali ibn Yusuf ibn Tashfin sent his
admiral Ahmad ibn Umar, better known under the name of Raqsh al-Auzz
to attack a certain island in the Atlantic, but he died before doing
that. [...] Beyond this ocean of fogs it is not known what exists
there. Nobody has the sure knowledge of it, because it is very
difficult to traverse it. Its atmosphere is foggy, its waves are very
strong, its dangers are perilous, its beasts are terrible, and its
winds are full of tempests. There are many islands, some of which are
inhabited, others are submerged. No navigator traverses them but
bypasses them remaining near their coast. [...] And it was from the
Lisbon that the adventurers set out known under the name of
Mughamarin [Adventurers], penetrated the ocean of fogs and wanted to
know what it contained and where it ended. [...] After sailing for
twelve more days they perceived an island that seemed to be inhabited,
and there were cultivated fields. They sailed that way to see what it
contained. But soon barques encircled them and made them prisoners,
and transported them to a miserable hamlet situated on the coast.
There they landed. The navigators saw there people with red skin;
there was not much hair on their body, the hair of their head was
straight, and they were of high stature. Their women were of an
This translation by Professor
Muhammad Hamidullah is however
questionable, since it reports, after having reached an area of
"sticky and stinking waters", the Mugharrarin (also translated as "the
adventurers") moved back and first reached an uninhabited island where
they found "a huge quantity of sheep the meat of which was bitter and
uneatable" and, then, "continued southward" and reached the above
reported island where they were soon surrounded by barques and brought
to "a village whose inhabitants were often fair-haired with long and
flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty". Among the villagers, one
spoke Arabic and asked them where they came from. Then the king of the
village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they
were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.[verification needed]
Apart from the marvellous and fanciful reports of this history, the
most probable interpretation is that the Mugharrarin
reached the Sargasso Sea, a part of the ocean covered by seaweed,
which is very close to
Bermuda yet one thousand miles away from the
American mainland. Then while coming back, they may have landed either
on the Azores, or on
Madeira or even on the westernmost Canary Island,
El Hierro (because of the sheep). Last, the story with the inhabited
island might have occurred either on
Tenerife or on Gran Canaria,
where the Mugharrarin presumably met some Guanche tribe. This would
explain why some of them could speak Arabic (some sporadic contacts
had been maintained between the
Canary Islands and Morocco) and why
they were quickly deported to
Morocco where they were welcomed by
Berbers. Yet, the story reported by Idrisi is an indisputable account
of a certain knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean by Andalusians and
Furthermore, Al-Idrisi writes an account of eight Mugharrarin all from
the same family who set sail from
Lisbon (Achbona) in the first half
of that century and navigated in the seaweed rich seas beyond the
Idrisi describes an island of cormorants with which Corvo, Cape Verde
has been tentatively identified, but on weak grounds.
In popular culture
Al Idrisi was the main character in Tariq Ali's book entitled A Sultan
Al Idrisi is a major character in Karol Szymanowksi's 1926 opera King
Al Idrisi's ideas on Mare Tenebrarum are alluded to in Pascal
Mercier's book entitled Night Train to Lisbon.
Al-Idrisi's works had a profound influence on European writers such
as: Marino Sanuto the Elder, Antonio Malfante,
Jaume Ferrer and Alonso
Fernández de Lugo.
IDRISI GIS system, developed by Clark University, is named
after Muhammad al-Idrisi
In 2010, the Government of
Mauritius unveiled a planisphere of Al
Idrisi at Travellers's Lane, initiated by semiologist Khal Torabully,
at the Jardin de la Compagnie, Port-Louis, to pay hommage to the work
of the geographer.
Al-Idrisi's map of the Indian Ocean.
Al-Idrisi's map of what is modern day
Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea.
Al-Idrisi's map of the northern shoreline of Marmara Region.
Al-Idrisi's map of the Balkans.
Al-Idrisi's map of the Balkans.
Al-Idrisi's map of the Iberian peninsula.
Al-Idrisi's map of the Iberian peninsula.
Al-Idrisi's description of Finland
Map of the
Senegal River according to Al-Idrisi.
History of cartography
^ Pierre Herman Leonard Eggermont (1 January 1975). Alexander's
Campaigns in Sind and Baluchistan and the Siege of the Brahmin Town of
Harmatelia. Peeters Publishers. pp. 7–.
^ Helaine Selin (16 April 2008). Encyclopaedia of the History of
Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer.
pp. 128–. ISBN 978-1-4020-4559-2.
^ a b Scott, S.P. (1904), History of the Moorish Empire in Europe
(Vol. 3), Philadelphia: Lippincott, pp. 461–462
^ Title as given by John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of the
Italians and their Food (New York, 2008) p. 17.
^ Dunn, 2009, p. 452.
^ Ashe, 1971, p. 48.
^ Ahmad 1992
^ a b Levtzion & Hopkins 2000, p. 104
^ a b Ducène, Jean-Charles (2011). "Les coordonnées géographiques
de la carte manuscrite d'al-Idrisi". Der Islam. 86: 271–285.
^ Horizons, New. "Team".
Pluto Name Bank Proposal 2015-07-07. NASA.
^ Ahmad 1960, p. 158.
^ Al-Idrisi 1592.
^ Sionita & Hesronita 1619.
^ Jaubert 1836–1840.
^ Al-Idrisi 1970–1984.
^ Mohammed Hamidullah (Winter 1968). "Muslim Discovery of America
before Columbus", Journal of the Muslim Students' Association of the
United States and Canada 4 (2): 7–9 
^ Idrisi, Nuzhatul Mushtaq – "La première géographie de
l'Occident", comments by Henri Bresc and Annliese Nef, Paris, 1999
^ The journal: account of the first voyage and discovery of the
Indies, p. 197, at Google Books
^ Land to the West: St. Brendan's Voyage to America, p. 135, at Google
Archived 3 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
Ahmad, S. Maqbul, ed. and trans. (1960), India and the neighbouring
territories in the "Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fi'khtiraq al-'afaq" of
al-Sharif al-Idrisi, Leiden: Brill .
Ahmad, S. Maqbul (1992), "
Cartography of al-Sharīf al-Idrīsī", in
Harley, J.B.; Woodward, D., The History of
Cartography Vol. 2 Book 1:
Cartography in the traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies
(PDF), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 156–174,
ISBN 978-0-226-31635-2 .
Al-Idrisi (1592), De Geographia Universali : Kitāb Nuzhat
al-mushtāq fī dhikr al-amṣār wa-al-aqṭār wa-al-buldān
wa-al-juzur wa-al-madā' in wa-al-āfāq, Rome: Medici .
Al-Idrisi (1970–1984), Opus geographicum: sive "Liber ad eorum
delectationem qui terras peragrare studeant." (9 Fascicles) (in
Arabic), Edited by Bombaci, A. et al., Naples: Istituto Universitario
Orientale . A critical edition of the Arabic text.
Jaubert, P. Amédée, trans. & ed. (1836–1840), Géographie
d'Édrisi traduite de l'arabe en français d'après deux manuscrits de
la Bibliothèque du roi et accompagnée de notes (2 Vols), Paris:
L'imprimerie Royale CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link) .
Géographie d'Édrisi, Volume 1 at Google Books ; Volume 2.
Gallica: Volume 1; Volume 2. Complete translation of Nuzhat
al-mushtāq fī ikhtirāq al-āfāq into French.
Levtzion, Nehemia; Hopkins, John F.P., eds. (2000), Corpus of Early
Arabic Sources for West Africa, New York, NY: Marcus Weiner Press,
pp. 104–131, ISBN 1-55876-241-8 . First published in
1981. Section on the Maghrib and Sudan from Nuzhat al-mushtaq fi
Sionita, Gabriel; Hesronita, Joannes, trans. & eds. (1619),
Geographia nubiensis: id est accuratissima totius orbis in septem
climata divisi descriptio, continens praesertim exactam vniuersae
Asiae, & Africae, rerumq[ue] in ijs hactenus incognitarum
explicationem, Paris: Hieronymi Blageart CS1 maint: Extra text:
authors list (link) .
Ferrer-Gallardo, X. and Kramsch, O. T. (2016), Revisiting Al-Idrissi:
The EU and the (Euro)Mediterranean Archipelago Frontier. Tijdschrift
voor economische en sociale geografie, 107: 162–176.
Beeston, A.F.L. (1950), "Idrisi's Account of the British Isles",
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 13 (2):
265–280, doi:10.1017/S0041977X00083464, JSTOR 609275 .
Edrisi (1866), Description de l'Afrique et de l'Espagne, Arabic text
with notes and French translation by R. Dozy et M.J. de Goeje, Leiden:
E.J. Brill .
Oman, G. (1971), "Al-Idrīsī",
Encyclopaedia of Islam
Encyclopaedia of Islam Volume 3 (2nd
ed.), Leiden: Brill, pp. 1032–1035 .
Ahmad, S. Maqbul (2008) [1970–80], "Al-Idrīsī, Abū, 'Abd Allāh
Muḥ̣ammad Ibn Muḥ̣ammad Ibn 'Abd Allāh Ibn Idrīs, Al-Sharīf
Al-Idrīsī", Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography,
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Bibliothèque nationale de France (French)
Idrisi's world map, Library of Congress. Konrad Miller's 1927
consolidation and transliteration, with high-resolution zoom browser.
Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of
Oklahoma Libraries High resolution images of works by al-Idrisi in
.jpg and .tiff format.
IDRISI GIS home page
"Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa: Containing a Description of
the Several Nations for the Space of Six Hundred Miles up the River
Gambia" features English translations of work by al-Idrisi. The
manuscript dates from 1738.
Original Nuzhatul Mushtaq text
Geography and cartography in medieval Islam
Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī
Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnawarī
Ahmad ibn Rustah
Ahmad ibn Fadlan
Abu Zayd al-Balkhi
Abū Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdānī
Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad
Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī
Abu Saʿīd Gardēzī
Abu'l Abbas al-Hijazi
Ibn Said al-Maghribi
Ghiyāth al-dīn Naqqāsh
Ahmad ibn Mājid
Sulaiman Al Mahri
Mir Ahmed Nasrallah Thattvi
Book of Roads and Kingdoms (al-Bakrī)
Book of Roads and Kingdoms (ibn Khordadbeh)
Kitab al-Rawd al-Mitar
The Meadows of Gold
Piri Reis map
ISNI: 0000 0001 1439 431X
BNF: cb121554181 (data)