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[Masters of Our Culture]

PIRI REIS (1465 - 1554)      

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Apart from being a unique cartographer and a master of naval sciences, Piri Reis was a famous admiral who profoundly influenced the Ottoman naval history. He was born around 1465-1470 in Gallipoli – the important naval base of the Ottomans. His original name was Muhiddin Pirî. He was the son of Karamanli Haci Ali Mehmet and nephew of well-known Ottoman seafarer Kemal Reis. As he was around 10 years old, he started his first voyages along with his uncle. He went to Spain in order to help the Muslims accompanying his uncle. Between 1491 and 1493, he attended the incursions to Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica Islands and Southern France shores. Taking service under Ottoman Empire with his uncle, he captained a battleship in the 1499 -1502 Ottoman – Venetian war. Pirî Reis was a renowned mapmaker aside from being a great sailor, and he described and mapped in his book the places that he had visited starting from his early days in the navy with their historical and geographical aspects by making use of foreign sources as well. When his uncle Kemal Reis died in 1511, Piri Reis returned to Gallipoli and began to write his book "Kitab-i Bahrieh" (Book of the Navy) and he prepared a world map. The surviving portion of the map depicts the western shores of Europe and Africa, along with the Antilles, Central and Southern America. What gained its worldwide fame is that the map includes information about the map of Americas before it had been discovered by Christopher Columbus.

Piri Reis presented his map to the Yavuz Sultan Selim during his Egypt campaign in 1517. He carried on his studies by mapping a second world map. The surviving portion of the second map was the northwestern part of a large scale world map and portrayed the north of Atlantic Ocean, the newly discovered shores of North and Central America and the shoreline from Greenland to Florida. The second map was technically the most advanced of its time.

Ottoman Cartography literally began with Piri Reis. This has been a perfect initiation. “Kitab-i Bahrieh” of Piri Reis has been acknowledged as one of the greatest naval works of all times. The accuracy and projection system’s perfection of the world map and the charts of the North America have influenced and amazed the entire world. Piri Reis clearly has cited the works he had quoted as honestly as a scientist.

Christopher Columbus has had 4 journeys to America between 1492-1504 and sketched the shorelines. However none of those maps could survive our time. The charts of Christopher Columbus exist only with the portion in the maps of Piri Reis. The world map sketched in 1500 by Juan de la Cosa who joined the second journey as a guide, Contarini’s world map of 1506 and Martin Waldseemüller’s world map of 1507 depicting North and South America unattached to the Asian continent for the first time are the first maps to include the American continent. The map of Piri Reis had been charted more accurately than those three maps. In brief, among the maps produced after Columbus’ discovery of America, the most accurate and matching maps to the modern maps have been that of Piri Reis’. Their projection system is surprisingly perfect. The outcomes of Prof. C. Hapgood’s researches have shown that the maps of Piri Reis amazingly resembled an azimuthal projection centered on Cairo. Erich Von Daeniken, on the other hand, has put forward a sensational view that this map could only have been charted by looking at the photographs taken from spaceships. The Antarctic mountains in the map are another mystery as well. Those ice-covered mountains were discovered with a sound-reflecting system.

After 1528, Piri Reis served the empire on the southern seas and during this period he was promoted to “Hint Kaptanligi” –a rank of admiral in the Ottoman Navy. He has taken charge of the Ottoman Fleet in the Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Basra until his late years.

After the Portuguese had captured Aden, Piri Reis was appointed to lead the Ottoman Fleet as the admiral and recaptured Aden on 26 February 1548 followed in 1552 by the capture of Muscat, which was an important Portuguese naval base, and the important island of Kish then he besieged the Castle of Hormuz. Receiving the tidings of Portuguese plan to block the Gulf of Basra, Piri Reis turned further North and passed to Egypt by conquering the Qatar Peninsula and Bahrain Island.

Upon the allegations of leaving the weary and worn fleet in Basra owing to the efforts of Basra governor Kubat Pasha and governor-general Mehmet Pasha and turning back to Egypt, Piri Reis was found guilty of abusing his duty and executed in Cairo. He still lives today with his great accomplishments such as his works on universal scale, two world maps and his masterpiece of the modern navy "Kitab-i Bahrieh."