The Great Jewish Cartographers of the 14th Century

April 10 2019

Born in 1325 on the island of Majorca to a rabbinic family, Abraham Cresques created a Catalan-language atlas that was one of the most important geographical texts of his day. Ushi Derman writes:

From a young age, Abraham. . . was considered an artist among watchmakers and crafters of compasses and other navigational tools. But he invested most of his efforts in the field of cartography and stood out among the members of the trailblazing Majorcan School of Cartography. Documents from that period refer to Abraham as “Cresques the Jew.” [He] passed on his passion for mapping to his son Jehuda. . . .

Their place in history was sealed in 1375, when King Juan I of Aragon commissioned them to create a number of navigation maps of the world that would include greater detail than [existing] maps. The king’s command was simple: include all “the East and the West” and add “everything in existence west of the Gibraltar Straits.” The remuneration: 150 gold coins of Aragon and 60 Majorcan pounds. . . . Hunkered down in their home in the Jewish Quarter of Palma de Majorca, they completed the work a year later. The result was a masterpiece. . . .

The strikingly beautiful Catalan Atlas was made up of six, narrow, long, side-by-side maps packed with lovely illuminations, depicting Marco Polo riding a camel to China and other events and wonders of the world. The six maps mounted on wooden boards bound in leather included texts that enriched the reader with vast knowledge of cosmography, astronomy, and astrology. . . . The maps also gave sailors vital information about the ebb and flow of tides and how to [navigate] after dark.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Museum of the Jewish People

More about: Middle Ages, Sephardim

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics