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A royal advisor sent on a mission to create a world map, al-Idrisi created one of the most studied works of mapmaking and geography.


5 - 8


Geography, Social Studies, World History


Al-Idrisi Mediterranean Map

Arab geographer al-Idrisi oversaw the creation of more than 70 maps. This al-Idrisi map contains the Mediterranean Sea, northern Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia. It is oriented with the south toward the top.

Photograph by Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Centuries before digital navigation apps put global maps at our fingertips, people relied on the work and research of scholars and cartographers (mapmakers) to illustrate the world. One of the most famous cartographers to publish early maps of the world was Arab Muslim geographer, traveler, and scholar Abū Abdallāh Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdallāh ibn Idrīs al-sharif al-Idrīsī, or simply al-Idrisi. Al-Idrisi’s book, The Excursion of One Who is Eager to Traverse the Regions of the World, is known as one of the great works of medieval geography and cartography.

Little is known about al-Idrisi’s life. It is likely he was born in Sabtah, Morocco (now known as Ceuta), around 1100 C.E. Al-Idrisi is believed to be a descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. He attended the university in Cordoba, Spain, and traveled throughout North Africa, Europe’s Mediterranean region, and Spain.

In 1145 C.E., al-Idrisi became an advisor to King Roger II of Sicily. Roger II hired al-Idrisi to create an updated world map. Al-Idrisi sent travelers and geographers around the world to gather knowledge for this updated map and others.

The fruit of these efforts, The Excursion of One Who is Eager to Traverse the Regions of the World, was completed in 1154 C.E., shortly before the king’s death. The finished product included a text illustrating the geographic findings and a collection of 70 maps that included the world north of the equator. Al-Idrisi’s work was translated into Latin and studied globally.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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