18 Albertin di Virga’s map and Zheng He’s 1418 map

Albertin di Virga’s map and Zheng He’s 1418 map


This memo summarises the evidence for Gavin Menzie’s contention that Albertin di Virga met Admiral Zheng He’s fleet in Alexandra in Cairo in 1418. There he obtained a copy of Zheng He’s integrated map of the world 1418 which he copied. He substituted his own 1409 map of the Mediterranean for those parts on the 1418 map. He also used Arab maps for depictions of North Africa and the Persian Gulf. Di Virga then published his map with the amendments in 1419.

Part I – introduction Di Virga’s 1419 map.


Mr Albert Figdor found this map in a second hand bookshop in 1911 in Srbrenica, a Bosnian town near Dubrovnik. He took it to the Austrian State University in Vienna (Austria then ruled Bosnia) where it was examined by the leading cartographer of the day, Professor Franz Von Wieser who authenticated the map in his thesis “Die Weltcarte Des Albertin De Virga (The world map of Albertin di Virga). The map was photographed and authenticated photographs were purchased by the Biblioteque Nationale Paris and by the Egyptian Collector, Prince Youssuf Kamal. Prince Kamal’s collection is now in the British Library where it can be seen in Tome IV Part III at page 1350.

Mr. Figdor decided to auction the map in 1932 but it was stolen and has never been recovered. The map was brought to public attention by Leo Bagrow in “The History of Cartography” in 1952, then again in the 1992 issue of Cartographica (vol 29 no.2) and once more by Dr. Gunnar Thompson in 1996 in his book “The Friar’s Map”. I am indebted to Dr. Thompson for bringing the map to my attention in 2003.

The enormous importance of di Virga’s map is that it shows the world from the NW Atlantic to Australia, from Siberia to South Africa, from Japan to the Azores before European voyages of exploration had started. Africa is shown with its correct shape before Europeans knew of it. The whole world is remarkably accurately drawn. Di Virga must therefore have copied the maps from some non-European party.

Part II – Zheng He’s Integrated map of the world 1418


In the spring of 2001, Mr. Liu Gang, a distinguished Chinese lawyer, purchased an original old world map written in Chinese in a second hand bookshop in Shanghai. The map is finely illustrated on bamboo paper with ink and colours. On the upper right hand corner of the map are six Chinese characters which mean “general chart of the integrated world”. A statement written by the map maker on the lower left hand corner of the map says “(this chart is) drawn by Mo Yi Tong, a subject (of Qing dynasty) in the year of 1763 by imitating a world chart made in 1418 showing the barbarians paying tribute (to Ming dynasty)”.

The left hand hemisphere of the map shows the world just as di Virga does – from the NW Atlantic to Australia, from Siberia to South Africa, from Japan to the Azores. It is centred on precisely the same place as Albertin di Virga’s map is centred – the Aral Sea. A photograph is shown below. (diagrams AVI)

Each map is now described in more detail:

Di Virga 1419

Circular world map on Parchment 69.6 x 44 cm, world map proper 41cm. Signed A. 141 Albertin di Virga me fecit in Vinexia – the last number of the date having been erased by a fold in the parchment. The map is centred in the Aral Sea. The map is in colour with the seas left white except for the red sea which is coloured in vermillion (as in 1375 map). Landmasses are coloured in yellow with islands a variety of colours. Mountains are greenish brown, lakes are blue and rivers brown.

Names of various locations are written in either red or black ink always inside a small box or cartouche.

Zheng He 1418

The map is centred on the Aral Sea. The map is in colour with the seas blue. Landmasses are in burnt sienna with islands the same colour. Mountains are greenish brown, lakes are in blue and rivers greenish brown.

Names of locations shown on Zheng He’s maps are in black ink always inside a box or cartouche surrounded in red. Names not so enclosed were not on Zheng He’s map.

The similarity

As a matter of common sense the maps are strikingly similar. Here is the comment of a leading expert on Albertin di Virga’s map delivered by Dr Piero Falchetta, map librarian of the Correr and Marciano museums, Venice. When Dr. Falchetta delivered this speech in 1997, Zheng He’s map had not been discovered:

Partial Translation by Marcella Menzies of pages 5 to 9 of Dr Pierro Falchetta’s address entitled “ Carte Geografiche e cartografi a Venezia al tempo di Giovanni Caboto” (c.1497) – Toronto 1997.

….. “Bearing this in mind, it seems di Virga had access to information of Arabic or Chinese origin. But what source of information could it possibly have been? From stories of merchants and mariners? Or from maps and accounts of foreign travels?”

“Because the testimony is very uncertain, it is necessary to take a fresh look at a paragraph of Ramusio to which no one has paid much attention despite it appearing in Chinese documents.”

“This paragraph, which appears in his introduction to the 1583 edition of the ‘Milione’ gives information about some old charts which were situated in the monastery of the island of San Michele in Venice where Fra Mauro compiled his celebrated globe which we now call ‘Marciano’.

“Ramusio says that the Abbot of the Monastery of San Michele in Murano, the same Monastery where Fra Mauro lived and worked, had told him that Fra Mauro had copied his celebrated globe from a beautiful old Marine chart and from a globe which were brought from China by Marco Polo and that Marco Polo had annotated on this chart the towns and countries which he had visited. It is strange that this testimony of Ramusio which appears absolutely plausible has been greeted with such skepticism.

“The same Fra Mauro does not in fact refute this when he reforms to navigation in Australasia.”

“But it is only after the publication by Fuchs in 1953 and Chang in 1970, about the very first news of Chinese Cartographic documents of the 13 and 14 hundreds, that Ramusio’s account becomes more credible.”

“The chart entitled ‘The Countries of the S.W. seas’ of Chu Ssu Pen compiled in 1320 (the copy which reached us thanks to the copy of Hung Ssien in the middle 1500s) shows in a summarized fashion that the Chinese cartographers (of the 13 and 1400s) had a precise knowledge of the shape of Africa. According to Chang, this knowledge was the fruit of continuous reports of the topography – coastal and internal – of Africa by merchants and mariners whom for centuries had frequent and extensive contact with cities alongside the Southern coast of China.

“The cartography of Chu Ssu Pen should therefore be based on information gleaned from Arabs for the Indian Ocean and Africa whilst descriptions of China were compiled from regional cartographic documents of the type that Marco Polo should have possessed – according to Ramusio.”

“So if I had to summarize, there were Chinese charts with an Arab input, documents which Marco Polo should have eventually brought home from China.

………” the di Virga globe is a document which remains isolated in its uniqueness particularly because the questions that di Virga’s globe poses were not developed by other Venetian cartographers in the 1400’s, and, then only partly by Fra Mauro….”

To, somewhat widely summarize Dr. Falchetta, he postulates that di Virga obtained his information from Arabic and Chinese sources – with which I agree.

There now follows what, in my submission, were the Chinese sources that is Zheng He’s 1418 map. Zheng He inhereted a considerable number if Kubilai Khan’s maps of the world which maps would have been available to Marco Polo. My comparison of Zheng He’s 1418 and Albertin di Virga’s maps goes anticlockwise – the Atlantic and West Africa; Indonesia, Philippines and W. Pacific; China; Japan; Manchuria and the Being Straits; Siberia; NE passage; & Greenland.

Part III – detailed comparisons

The Atlantic and West Africa

By 1418/1419 Eurpean voyages of exploration had just started. Madeira had been discovered in 1419/1420 but the Azores had not. The Azores are shown on both the 1418 and 1419 maps (di Virga) (and also on Kubilai Khan’s map the Kangnido). Sao Tome and Fernando Po (discovered by Europeans 1469) appear on di Virga but not Zheng He. They have Arabic names so I imagine di Virga got those from Arab maps. St. Helena and Ascension appear on both di Virga and Zheng He but were not found by Europeans for another 50 years. The Niger, Congo and Orange Rivers appear on both maps – more than 5 decades before Europeans reached them. In summary South of the Bight of Benin, I believe that di Virga took all his information from Zheng He’s map. (There are a number of Zheng He’s other maps showing that his fleets penetrated far further South – right down to the Weddell Sea).

The Indian Ocean

The first European ship to enter the Indian Ocean was da Gama’s in 1498 followed swiftly by Cabral and Dias. Madagascar and the Maldives appear on both di Virga and Zheng He’s maps as does Java – seventy years before Da Gama.

South East Asia

The Irrawaddy River and the island of Hainan appear on both maps. Australia appears on di Virga (Java Major) in its correct position relative to China but on Zheng He’s Australia is far further east – a longitude error of 35 degrees. Europeans reached Australia two centuries later.


Di Virga’s map has a plethora of Chinese place names (Zaiton etc) in their correct position. Both maps show the yellow and Yangtse Rivers. Marco Polo could have provided this information.


Both maps show Shikoku, Honshu, Hokkaido, and Sakhalin islands. The first European to reach Japan was Saavedra over a century later (1528). Zheng He’s fleets made frequent visits to Japan, Marco Polo did not.

Manchuria, the Bering Straist and Siberia / the North West Passage

Both maps show the Amur River, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Gulf of Anadyr. (First European Deznev 1648). Both show the River Ob emptying into the Kara Sea. Both show the Irrawaddy, the Irtysh River at Khanty Mansisk. The first European (Russian) settlement on the Ob was at Odorsk in 1595. A Cossacks brigade led by Yermak employed by the Strogarolt family reached the Irtysh in 1579 – they found Chinese settlements along the banks.

Zheng He’s passage from Northern Europe to China and on to Australia and New Zealand?

The 1418 and 1419 maps shows the NE passage clear of ice along its entire length. The old Chinese map attached to Robin Lind’s email of 4th November shows the “route” line passing from the Chukchi Sea through the Bering Straits to China.

At Fraser’s Island on the NE coast of Australia Brett Green and others have found the wrecks of large, very old Chinese junks and a quantity of Chinese jade jewellery buried nearby. Near the jewellery are buried old Pskov coins dated 1426 – 1434. Pskov, with Novgorod, was the most important city of Muscovy in the mid 15th century. There is extensive corroborative evidence that there were large Chinese settlements along the rivers Ob and Lena which the first Russian explorers found as they conquered Siberia.

The 1418 and 1419 maps shows the Ob, Bering Straits (with St. Lawrence island), Australia. Only the 1418 map shows New Zealand (North, South and Chatham Islands.) There is extensive corroborative evidence (please see www.gavinmenzies.net ) of Zhou Man’s fleet being wrecked by a tsunami in New Zealand S. Island.)

The Northwest Atlantic and Greenland

Both the 1418 and 1419 maps show Spitsburgen Franz Joseph land and Sualbad. Zheng He’s map shows Greenland; di Virga’s in the position of Greenland has peculiar large wedged shap piece of land named ‘Norumbega’ which seems to me to contain Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroes, Orkneys and Shetlands. I cannot explain this and would welcome suggestions not leaset translation of the Chinese characters for Greenland on Zheng He’s map.


Both di Virga and Zheng He’s maps depict the same eastern hemisphere of the world centered on the same place showing rivers from the Orange in S Africa to the Amur in Siberia ages before Europeans discovered them. The same Islands from the N Atlantic to the N Pacific are depicted. This cannot be a coincidence. Both maps were published before European voyages of exploration started. As di Virga was a European, his map must be a copy of Zheng He’s.

Part IV Di Virga and Zheng He’s meeting – Cairo 1419?

The little that is known of di Virga states that he owned a small fleet of ships which traded with Alexandra. We know Zheng He’s fleets passed through Alexandria having transited the Red Sea – Nile Canal.

Zheng He’s passage through the Red Sea- Nile Canal to Cairo, the Mediterranean and on to Morocco and the Straits of Gibraltar

Notes on the 1418 map on North Africa (Translation Liu Gang)

“… There is a huge city here built with stones, the dimension of stones can be compared to those used by tombs of Qin dynasty Emperor…” [As everyone will know the volume of Emperor Qin’s pyramid tomb and of Khufu are about the same. Khufu is higher, Qin’s has a larger base area.]

The Ming Shi (Martin Tai translation)

The foreign countries chapter says “… Year 6 Zheng He went to Hormuz and other foreign countries, returned home at Year 8 “countries visited but for which there was no return tribute are listed as an Appendix” [the Appendix] “… Mayidong, Kalimantan, Misr, Mulanpi, Kilin, Sunha…”

Misr and the Red Sea-Nile Canal

Misr was, in 1421, the name for Fustat, the principal part of Cairo (Al Makrizi.)

The Red Sea-Nile Canal was started around 2000 BC. It silted up, Alexander the Great dug it out again. Once more it was covered by sand; the Roman Emperor Trajan removed the sand. It was renamed “Amis Trajanas” or “Fossae Trajani.” The canal; was extensively widened and modernised by the Fatimids. Muiz built 600 ships. When Nasir Ibn Khusrau came to Cairo (12th century) some ships were still lying on the banks. “… I have seen them. They measured 30 Areeh x 60 Arech…” i.e. about 275 foot long and 110 foot beam. In short, all but Zheng He’s biggest could have transited the canal.

Makrizi describes the last major improvement in the mid 14th century when Al Nasir directed the canal through Elephant Island to where the Nile Hilton stands today – the drained marshland. It remained in that position until 1899.

The doges’ Palace maps (brought to Venice by Marco Polo and Nicollo da Conti) show the route of the canal entitled “Fossae Trajani.”

So it seems from the 1418 map that Zheng He’s crews went sight seeing to the pyramids having passed through the canal. The “route” drawn on the old “Chinese World Map” attached to Robin Lind’s email of 4th November shows the “route” passing through the Red Sea into the Mediterranean, thence westwards for Morocco.

Gavin Menzies
London 6th December

View map: Di Virga World Map – 1410

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