Collection of 17th century Portolano Charts

Scope and Content

The charts are of the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the coasts of Western Europe and North-western Africa.

Administrative / Biographical History

Between the 14th and early 17th centuries, portolan (or pilot-book) charts provided the main navigational aids between the seaports of the world. The term portolan (from the Italian 'portolano') refers to written sailing directions for seafarers. By networks of lines indicating the direction of one port from another, navigators were able to set their necessary courses. From such works, accumulated over generations, the first marine charts were drawn. Now the charts are admired as much for their decorations as their historical information. This particular small collection is composed of charts drawn by Franciscus Oliva, one of a well-known family of Italian map-makers, in Marseille in 1650. Most portolan charts of the Mediterranean were compiled in Genoa, Venice, and Majorca.

Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) The new encyclopaedia Britannica. Micropaedia. Ready Reference. 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1991. (2) Wallis, Helen M. and Robinson, Arthur H. (eds.). Cartographical innovations. An international handbook of mapping terms to 1990. St. Albans: Campfield Press, Map Collector Publications, and International Cartographic Association, 1987.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Custodial History

Gift of Baillie Thomas Young, Edinburgh, 1690.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Geographical Names