Portolan maps. Solarglide present an exploration of ancient sea maps and charts

What Were Portolan Maps & Ancient Marine Charts

One of the oldest sea maps in the world was created by ANAXIMANDER – the Greek philosopher. The map was in circulation around ( 610 – 546 BCE ) and formed illustrated lands of the world, grouped together around the AEGEAN sea.


one of the ealiest sea maps illustration by solarglide

One of the earliest sea maps created : Artist / Philosopher – ANAXIMANDER. illustrated by Solarglide.com


What Did Ancient Sea Maps Look Like

If I mentioned Sea Maps or Marine Charts, what would be the first thing that springs to mind? would it be Buried treasure ? Or perhaps ‘The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad‘ searching for the ‘Golden Fleece’.  Or, would it be Portolan Maps – the earliest marine charts in existence. The traditional Portolan Map would be elaborately decorated with symbols and iconography of anchorage, sea beds and rocks. The sea charts would generally be embellished with the iconic ‘Compass Rose‘ depicting the best possible point of sail for the captain and his sailers.

sea maps an illustration of a Portolan Map or Chart

Solarglide explore Portolan sea maps

How were Portolan Maps Made

To be an original portolan chart, the ancient mariner maps must be from Vellum, which is a prepared animal skin or membrane. Historically, Vellum was made by stretching a calf skin over a wooden frame and processing it. The Vellum was then prepared for writing upon.

What Paint Was Used For a Portolan Charts

What paint was used to create ancient mariner maps. In a recent study, the portolan maps were analysed by various non-evasive techniques, such as infra-red, ultraviolet, digital microscopes along with X-Ray examinations. The maps were found to be covered in a layer of lead white. The principle pigments were made up of yellow ochre and copper-baked green pigment with a carbon black outline. The letters were probably written with an iron-gall ink with golden leaves applied. The glue is thought to have been mixtion glue, which would be applied to the gilded wind rose ( compass rose )

Solarglide compass rose

Solarglide illustrate a modern Compass Rose

What Is A Compass Rose On A Portolan Sea Map

The ‘Wind Rose‘ also known as a ‘Compass Rose‘ is usually an eight pointed  star-like compass that is illustrated with many navigational radial lines and diagrams attached, also known as ‘Rhumbs’. The compass Rose indicated the best possible point of direction including North, East, South and West. The Compass Rose as we know it today, is still very much being used within the marine and navigational purposes, albeit for decoration purposes.


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