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Catal Atlas-crop_edited.jpg

The Catalan Atlas, 1375 (detail)

Written within the walls of a Genoese prison the end of the 13th century, Marco Polo’s Divisament dou Monde (“The Description of the World”) represents one of the most emblematic texts in the travel and geographical literature of the European Middle Ages.

Blending factual observation and an intricate network of cultural imaginaries, the Divisament dou Monde offers a description of Asia as it was perceived through the eyes of a European traveler at the end of the 13th century. Polo’s text accumulates a staggering mass of cultural, historic, economic, and religious information relative to more than two hundred localities: cities, rivers, kingdoms, islands, regions that range from Indonesia to Central Asia. Names such as “Japan”, “Java”, “Sumatra”, “Tibet”, “Bengala” entered the Western cultural tradition through this text, along with the first biography of Siddhartha Gautama recorded in a European source.

This digital humanities project aims to present a first georeferenced map of the localities described by Polo in his book, visualizing the literary geographies of the Divisament dou Monde.

The project is being developed on an ArcGIS platform and is ongoing.

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The Map

The itineraries of the Divisament dou Monde

One of the first immediate questions raised by readers of the Divisament dou Monde involves the route(s) followed by Marco in his travels: where did he go? Which regions did he visit? What did he actually see and what he just reports from hearsay?

Retracing the tineraries of the Divisament dou Monde allows to better assess the reliability (or fictionality) of Marco's account, one of the most debated questions in the critical fortune of the Divisament: are we reading a book based on a factual experience, a travel fiction, or something in between?

Polo spent more than twenty years in Asia, working for the Mongol imperial administration: in the course of this long period of time he is likely ot have journey extensivley across scores of different routes, cities and regions, moving repeatdly back and forth the main axes of the Yuan road and waterways network. The route of his return journey from Çaiton (today Quanzhou in the southeast Chinese province of Fujian) to Venice via the Indian Ocean matches with information relayed by other Islamic and Chinese sources, including Rashid al-Din Hamadani’s Jami' al-tawarikh, a chronicle of the Mongol Ilkhanate compiled at the beginning of the 14th century, and a brief passage of the Yongle Encyclopedia 永乐大典, composed upon request of the Ming emperor Yongle in 1403-1408.

In this mosaic of paths that crisscross the narrative of the Divisament, we can schematically identify at least four main tracks:


- The initial journey undertaken by Niccolò and Matteo Polo, to the Mongol imperial court in 1260-1266; Marco did not accompany his father and uncle in this first journey, but relates of their route with a good deal of accuracy.

- Marco's own outbound journey from Venice to Asia in 1272-1273.

- His itineraries across Yuan China, spanning along two main axes: in a southwest direction, from the Yuan capital Khanbaliq (today Beijing) to Yunnan, and in a north to south direction, from Khanbaliq to Qinasy (Hangzhou), along the path of the imperial Grand Canal.

- Marco, Niccolò and Matteo Polo eventual return from Çaiton to Venice in 1291-1295 in a predominantly sea rout across the Indian Ocean.


The Itneraries



The following alphabetical lists includes of geographical localities in the map and described or mentioned by Polo in his text:

  1. Abasie (Abyssinia, scilicet Ethiopia)

  2. Acbaluc Mangi (Hanzhong, Shanxi, China)

  3. Acri (Acre, Israel)

  4. Aden (Aden, Yemen)

  5. Alexandrie (Alexandria, Egypt)

  6. Alcai (Altai Mountains)

  7. Aniu (ethnonym for the Hani people, Yunnan, China)

  8. Angaman (Andaman Islands)

  9. Arabie (Arabia)

  10. Arcingan (Erzingan, Turkey)

  11. Argiron (Erzurum, Turkey)

  12. Babeloine (Babylon, scilicet Egypt)

  13. Baudac (Baghdad, Iraq)

  14. Balc (Balkh, Afghanistan)

  15. Badascian (Badakshan, Afghanistan)

  16. Bascra (Bassora, Iraq)

  17. Bangala (Bengala)

  18. Barscol (unidentified locality, probably situated in Manchuria)

  19. Basman (Pasaman or, alternatively, Pasai, Indonesia)

  20. Bettalar (Puttalam, Sri Lanka)

  21. Bucara (Bukhara, Uzbekistan)

  22. Bolgara (Bolghar, Russia)

  23. Brius (Min River, a tributary of the Yangtze River, China)

  24. Cacanfu (Hejian, Henan, China)

  25. Cacianfu (Puzhou, Shanxi, China)

  26. Cacciar Modun (unidentified locality, northeast China)

  27. Caiciu (unidentified locality in Shanxi, China)

  28. Cail (Palayakayal, India)

  29. Caiu (Gaoyou, Jiangsu, China)

  30. Çaiton (Quanzhou, Fujian, China)

  31. Calacian (Alashan or alternatively Helanshan mountains, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, China)

  32. Calatu (Qalhat, Oman)

  33. Camandi (Qamadin, Iran)

  34. Çanghibar (Zanzibar, Tanzania)

  35. Canbaet (Kanbaya, Gujarat, India)

  36. Canbaluc (Beijing, China)

  37. Canpicion (Zhangye, Gansu, China)

  38. Caugigu (Dai Viet Kingdom, Northern Vietnam)

  39. Caracoron (Qaraqorum, Mongolia)

  40. Caramoran (Yellow River, China, from the Mongol name Qaramörän: “Black River”)

  41. Carajan (Yunnan, China)

  42. Çardandan (Baoshan, Yunnan, China)

  43. Cauli (Korea)

  44. Cascar (Kashgar, Xinjiang, China)

  45. Casum (Qavzin, Iran)

  46. Catay (Northern China)

  47. Caiciu (Guazhouzhen, Jiangsu, China)

  48. Caigiu (Hekou, Jiangsu, China)

  49. Cailum (Quilon, scilicet Kollam, Kerala, India)

  50. Camul (Hami, Xingjian, China)

  51. Canosalmi (unidentified locality in South-East Iran)

  52. Casserie (Kayseri, Turkey)

  53. Ceraçi (Shiraz, Iran)

  54. Cherman (Kerman, Iran)

  55. Chesmacoran (Markan, Pakistan)

  56. Chesimur (Kashmir)

  57. Chisi (Kish, Iran)

  58. Ciagannor (unidentified locality in Inner Mongolia, China)

  59. Cianba (Champa Kingdom, Vietnman)

  60. Cianscian (Changshan, Zhejiang, China)

  61. Ciangli (Ciangli, Dezhou, Shangdong, China)

  62. Cianglu (Cangzhou, Hebei, China)

  63. Ciarcian (Qarqan/Qiemo, Xingjian, China)

  64. Cinghianfu (Zhengjiang, Jiangsu, China)

  65. Cingiu (Nantong, Jiangsu, China)

  66. Ciorcia (Jurchen, scilicet Manchuria)

  67. Cipangu (Japan)

  68. Ciugiu (unidentified locality in China)

  69. Clemeinfu (Xanadu/Shangdu, Inner Mongolia, China)

  70. Cobinan (Kuhbonan, Iran)

  71. Coigangiu (Huai’an, Jiangsu, China)

  72. Comari (Comorin Cape, India)

  73. Choncha (Jiangzhe County, Fujian, China)

  74. Condur e Sondur (Côn Sơn Island and its archipelago, Vietnam)

  75. Conio (Konya, Turkey)

  76. Cormos (Hormuz, Iran)

  77. Cotan (Khotan/Hetian, Xingjian, China)

  78. Cugiu (Lushui, Zhejiang, China)

  79. Cuncun (unidentified locality in Shanxi, China)

  80. Curdistan (Kurdistan Region)

  81. Domas (Damascus, Syria)

  82. Darçiçi (Ercis, Turkey)

  83. Dili Dilivar (Delhi, India)

  84. Dagroian (Batak, Sumatra, Indonesia)

  85. Dufar (Dhofar, Oman)

  86. Egrigaia (Ningxia, China)

  87. Erginul (Wuwei, Gansu, China)

  88. Escer (Al Sihr, Yemen)

  89. Eçina (Eijin, Inner Mongolia, China)

  90. Ferlec (Perelak, Sumatra, Indonesia)

  91. Fugiu (Fuzhou, Fujian, China)

  92. Gaindu (Jianchang, Sichuan, China)

  93. Ganfu (Ganpu, Zhejiangm China)

  94. Ghengiu (Quzhou, Zhejiang, China)

  95. Ghinghintalas (unidentified locality in Xingjian, China)

  96. Giogiu (Zhuozhou, Hebei, China)

  97. Goçurat (Gujarat, India)

  98. Gonstantinople (Costantinople, Istanbul, Turkey)

  99. Iaci (Yachi, scilicet Kunming, Yunnan, China)

  100. Isfan (Isfahan, Iran)

  101. [Grande] Harminie (Great Armenia, Armenia)

  102. [Petite] Harminie (Lesser Armenia, a historical region now located in Turkey)

  103. Java (Java, Indonesia)

  104. Jerusalem (Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine)

  105. Laias (Iskandarun, Turkey)

  106. Lar (Karnataka, India)

  107. Lanbri (Lamuri, historical kingdom located in Aceh, Indonesia)

  108. Lochac (Lopburi, Thailand)

  109. Lop (Ruoqiang, Xingjian, China)

  110. Lor (Luristan, Iran)

  111. Mer de Cin (South China Sea)

  112. Mogdasio (Mogadishu, Somalia)

  113. Melabar (Malabar Coast, India)

  114. Malaiur (Unidentified locality in Sumatra, Indonesia)

  115. Mangi (Southern China)

  116. Mian (Burma)

  117. Mosul (Mosul, Iraq)

  118. Mulect (Alamut Castle, Iran)

  119. Muftili (Guntur, India)

  120. Nanghin (Kaifeng, Henan, China)

  121. Negroponte (Euboea, Greece)

  122. Necuveran (Nicobar Islands, India)

  123. Nubia (Nubia, Sudan)

  124. Oucaca (Ukek, Russia)

  125. Pamier (Pamir mountains)

  126. Pasciai (ethnonym for the Pasai people, southern Hindu Kush)

  127. Pauchin (Baoying, Jiangsu, China)

  128. Pentain (Bintan, Indonesia)

  129. Pem (Yutian, Xinjiang, China)

  130. Pianfu (Linfen, Shanxi, China)

  131. Provence de Oscurité (Region of darkness, i.e. Siberia/Northern Russia)

  132. Pulisanghin (Bridge on the Sanggan River)

  133. Quelifu (Jiang’ou, Fujian, China)

  134. Quengianfu (Xi’an, Shaanxi China)

  135. Qiansui (Yangtze River, China)

  136. Reobar (Jiroft, Persia)

  137. Rosie (Kievan Rus')

  138. Saianfu (Xiangfan, Hubei, China)

  139. Samatra (Samudera Sultante, Indonesia)

  140. Sanmarcan (Samarkand, Uzbekistan)

  141. Sapurgan (Sheberghan, Afghanistan)

  142. Sara (Sarj, Russia)

  143. Scasem (Eshkashem, Afghanistan)

  144. Scotra (Socotra Island, Yemen)

  145. Seilan (Cylon Island, Sri Lanka)

  146. Semenat (Somnath, Gujarat, India)

  147. Sevasto (Sivas, Turkey)

  148. Sichintingin (unidentified locality, probably Xijing Datongfu in northeast China)

  149. Sighinan (Shaghanan, Afghanistan)

  150. Sindafu (Chengdu, Sichuan, China)

  151. Sindafui (Zhangjiajou, Henan, China)

  152. Sinfu (Xining, Qinghai, China)

  153. Singiu Matu (Jining, Shandong. China)

  154. Soldadie (Sudak, Crimea, Russia)

  155. Soncara (Šawānkārah, Iran)

  156. Succio (Jiuquan, Gansu, China)

  157. Sulistan (Fars, Iran)

  158. Taianfu (Taiyuan, Shanxi, China)

  159. Taican (Takhar, Afghanistan)

  160. Tana (Thane, Maharashtra, India)

  161. Tangut (Tangut, historical region in northern China)

  162. Tanpingiu (Tonglu County, Zhejiang, China)

  163. Tebet (Tibet, China)

  164. Tenduc (Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China)

  165. Tigris (scilicet Volga River, Russia)

  166. Tighingui (Changzhou, Jiangsu, China)

  167. Toris (Tabriz, Iran)

  168. Toloman (possible ethnonym for the Tualaman people, south China)

  169. Tunocain (Tun-o-Quayan, Qohestan, Iran)

  170. Trepisonde (Trabezond, Turkey)

  171. Tundifu (Dongping, Shangdong, China)

  172. Unquen (Mihou County, Fujian, China)

  173. Venece (Venice, Italy)

  174. Vocan (Wakhan Corridor, Pakistan/Tajikistan)

  175. Vocian (Baoshan, Yunnan, China)

  176. Vughin (Huzhou, Zhejiang, China)

  177. Vugiu (Wujiang, Zhejiang, China)

  178. Yangiu (Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China)

  179. Yidfu (unidentified locality)

  180. Yarcan (Yarkand, Xingjiang, China)

  181. Yasdi (Yazd, Iran)

  182. Yrac (Iraq)

Mappamondo Fra mauro marciana di venezia_edited.png

Recent Updates

The realization of the georeference database and corresponding attribute table has been completed some time ago, between the end of 2020 and the first months of 2021. The map (with several trial versions) has been realized in the same period.

An initial version of this project was launched on ArcGIS StoryMaps in Spring 2021 and it should be still somewhere in the web.

Currently I'm working on a digitalization of the Franco-Italian text of the Divisament flanked by the English translation edited by Henry Yule and Henri Cordier in 1903. As of summer 2022, seventy-five chapters have been digitized (out of about two hundred chapters).

Developer's Diay


Tommaso Pepe, Guangzhou Maritime University
Guangzhou / Canton |

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