Portolan Charts | Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

The portolan chart began as a wayfinding tool that enabled sailors to cross the Mediterranean Sea and engage in trade among distant ports. The oldest portolan chart—the Carte Pisane, in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris—dates to the thirteenth century. These charts often look like satellite images, but they were made long before any technology, such as hot-air balloons, enabled humans to gain a bird’s-eye view of the terrain.

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