Medieval Geography

People in medieval Europe had lost all the knowledge about the world that classical civilizations like the Greeks and Romans had discovered. They found their own ways of picturing the earth.

The medieval map of the world on the right appears in a thirteenth-century work of philosophy by William of Conches. Does it look like the earth to you?

On this map, the northern hemisphere shows Europe and Africa on the left, separated by the Mediterranean Sea, and Asia on the right. The southern hemisphere is filled by a giant imagined continent, known as the Antipodes.

In medieval Europe it was assumed that the equatorial zone was so hot that no one could pass through it. People could only guess what lay in the southern half of the world.

In the fifteenth century, the Portuguese made voyages along the west coast of Africa. They showed that people could travel to the southern hemisphere. What did the Portuguese discover on their voyages?

Christianity ruled medieval Europe. Religion influenced the way the medieval world was mapped. The illustration below is from a map that decorated a medieval church. Find out more about this mappa mundi.

Diagram of the earth from Dragmaticon Philosophiae by William of Conches, written in the thirteenth century. Click on the picture to see a larger image
Noah's arc from the Hereford Mappa Mundi. Click on the picture to see a larger image