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Landscape Urbanism: Analysis of Mappae Mundi

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Mappae mundi, an imaginative form of world map created in the Middle Ages, attempted to form a visual encyclopedia of world knowledge based on varied and sometimes conflicting sources. Mapmakers used information from the Bible, Greek and Roman historians and geographers, and myth to create these hybrid objects, which employed text and images to transmit knowledge. However, on most cases, this process of hybridization does not ensure complete harmony between the disparate elements but does produce a fertile document for an exploration of culture.

The term mappamundi derives from the Latin mappa (a table cloth or napkin) and mundus (world). Since their geometric construction was by no means consistent, mappaemundi can be distinguished from the planisphere (Italian planisfero), which usually refers to a world map that has been consciously constructed according to the principles of transformation from a spherical to flat surface and whose primary purpose, unlike this condition, is locational.

The key point during the crafting of such medieval maps was not the actual reconstruction, in drawing, of the territorial conditions but rather depicting a different vision of the world; A deeper visualisation of the Earth, that which includes the Divine. The role of Divine in this type of cartography is encrypted through the form of God, surrounding the Earth.

The Ebstorf Map combines the “forbidden garden at the top of the world” with “monsters at the edges of the earth” – twenty four figures along the South edge of the map. Yet the map is also encompassed by Jesus: “the head, hands, and feet of Jesus peep out from behind the round image of the world. It is as though Jesus stands behind the earth, grasping it firmly in his hands” “He even holds the monstrous creatures; his left hand appears inside the boxed area that pictures a Troglogyte” ‘”He holds the earth in his hands”. The primary purpose of these mappae mundi, was to attract forms of Faith from the viewers, by informing them about the significant events in Christian history, rather than to record their precise locations. They rarely had a defined scale, being very schematic in character and geometry. All the historico-spatial elements of the Early Ages, infused with information from the Genesis, formed the outcome of this pattern of map-painting. The orientation is shifted to the East, positioning Jerusalem and the Crucifixion in the center of the circle, a strategy inspired from the Roman practice of centering maps on Rome.

Criticizing this choice of symbolic depiction, Daniel Birkholz argues that medieval cartographical studies frequently perceived mappaemundi as a religious tool to transmit and consolidate Christian beliefs, suggesting that research exploring the political importance of maps and the specular aspect of their creation and use is more beneficial.

However, this very essence of depiction of the Divine, creates resemblance of this form of mapping with the depiction of Cosmos, as in the cosmographical diagrams; Jain, for example, were interested not only to map the territory, but the material and immaterial forces that shape the Cosmos. Through this depiction, another layer of anagnosis of cartography was unveiled; That of hidden forces, practicing a form of power to the viewers. Daniel Birkholtz, The King’s Two Maps: Cartography and Culture in the Thirteenth Century England, 2004Arguing about the occasional subjectivity and the power that cartography potentially withholds, it is apparent the predominance potential of the mapmakers, towards a specific, underlying motive, be it power relations, be it social or hegemonic interest.

In the section spirituality of maps, in the book a World Transformed, Lisa Dream argues: “After all, maps, are never neutral. They “show” what their users want and need to believe about the world. They allow us to daydream, to plot and scheme, to envision our future. They help us take journeys, both real and imagined. Maps are belief systems in miniature”. I will make an attempt towards a philosophical transition, both having a certain level of similar Symbolism attributes; from the depiction of God as the Divine force of protection, inviting faithful to follow towards Immortality, to the dominance of Panopticon as verbally illustrated from Foucault and literally by Bentham. The Panopticon itself has a sense of spirituality. The plan view resembles quite Vitruvian chapels where again circle is the central geometrical valued shape. From Medieval mappamundi with cosmographic elements, in use of telling a story, to the use of spatial and social dominance over others is a transitional path we will try to follow and extract “rules” for today’s norms of order.

In Ebstorf map there is an apparent dedication to Symbolism of the Earth in terms of Geography, history and social structure, one that has to do more with the cosmographic elements exposed on it rather than geographical correspondence to the territory.

As Michel de Certeau argues, “behind the“monotheism” of the dominant panoptical procedures, we might suspect the existence and survival of a “polytheism” of concealed or disseminated practices”.

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Landscape Urbanism: Analysis Of Mappae Mundi. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 26, 2021, from
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