Dr Cyrus Ala'i Map Collection of Persia

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises 260 maps and prints of Persia from an external perspective and is arranged to reflect the two books written by Dr Ala'i, which are included in the collection: 'General maps of Persia (Brill, second edition, 2010) and Special Maps of Persia (Brill, 2010) and each catalogue record refers the reader to the page on the book where the map is discussed in detail by Dr Ala'i.

The earliest maps in the collection are Ptolemaic maps based on the descriptions of the world by the Greek geographer Ptolemy and later maps by mapmakers from Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Britain, the USA, Turkey and Portugal. Other maps are of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf; notable towns, maps of specific areas of Persia and of routes across the country. Dr Ala'i has also donated maps and prints of Persia not included in the books with a file of press-cuttings relating to the country taken from The Illustrated London News and The Graphic magazines.

Administrative / Biographical History

In January 2013 Dr Cyrus Ala'i presented the majority of his collection of unique maps of Persia (Iran) to the Centre for Iranian Studies at SOAS. Thereafter, they were immediately transferred to the SOAS Library Archives and Special Collections Department to ensure their permanent preservation and accessibility to all.

Dr Ala'i was born in Tehran, Iran in 1929 and studied engineering in Germany (receiving his PhD from the Technische Universitat Berlin-Charlottenburg) and management in the USA. He founded and directed a group of engineering companies in Iran for twenty years and lectured at the University of Tehran for eight years. Later settling in England, Dr Ala'i worked as a consulting engineer while studying cartography and amassing a collection of maps of Persia.

He was the Honorary Secretary of the International Map Collector's Society for nine years and has written articles and reviews on Persian maps and related topics, notably: 'Oriental Medieval Maps of the Persian Gulf' in The Map Collector 60, 1992, pp. 2-8., and 'A brief study of the old maps of Iran (Persia)' in Iranshenasi: a journal of Iranian Studies 4: 2, 1992 pp 269-302. He has been published in the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Imago Mundi: the international journal for the History of Cartography, Mercator's World, Portolan Map Journal (Washington Map Society) and other learned journals. An acknowledged expert on maps of Persia he contributed to the "Geography IV: Cartography of Persia" section for the Encyclopaedia Iranica (Bibliotheca Press, 2000) www.iranicaonline.org/articles/geography-iv-cartography-of-persia- Dr Ala'i delivered a paper titled "The rise and fall of cartography in pre-modern Islamic societies" at the 16th International Conference on the History of Cartography held in Vienna in 1996 and has lectured on Persian maps at many venues, including the Royal Geographical Society and SOAS.

Conditions Governing Access

While access to this collection is OPEN, please note that a large number of these maps (c.60) are currently on display within the Brunei Gallery exhibition 'Maps of Persia 1477 - 1925: A graphical journey through the history of Iran', from 23 January - 21 March 2015. Please check with desk staff to confirm the map you require is available.

Restrictions Apply

Acquisition Information

Donated by Dr Cyrus Ala'i to the Centre for Iranian Studies, SOAS, University of London, 31 January 2013.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Custodial History

Donated by Dr Cyrus Ala'i to the Centre for Iranian Studies, and soonafter physically transferred to SOAS Library, Archives & Special Collections for permanent preservation and access.

Geographical Names