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Extremely rare – the first map of Poland and Lithuania to have been printed in the Islamic world, published in Istanbul in 1803 by the Ottoman Military Engineering School Press, from Mahmud Raif Efendi’s revolutionary ‘Cedid Atlas’.

Author: MAHMUD RAIF Efendi (c. 1760 - 1807).
Place and Year: Üsküdar (Istanbul): Imperial Military Engineering School Press, 1803.
Code: 65863

Copper engraving with original full wash colour (Good, fine original colour, some worm holes with minor loss near both head and tail of centerfold, tight upper and lower margins as issued, blank margins contemporarily extended on all sides), neatline: 52.5 x 58 cm (20.5 x 23 inches); extended margins: 58 x 71.5 cm (23 x 28 inches).


This extraordinary map is the first map of Poland and Lithuania to have been printed in the Islamic World, and was issued within Mahmud Raif Efendi’s Cedid Atlas Tercümesi [A Translation of a New Atlas], the first Muslim-published world atlas based on European geographic knowledge and cartographic methods, published in Üsküdar, Istanbul in 1803 by the Imperial Military Engineering School Press.  The atlas was issued in an exceedingly small print run expressly for use in elite Ottoman circles, ensuring that the present map is today extremely rare.


The map embraces all of today’s Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and much of Belarus.  The text and toponymy are entirely in Ottoman Turkish script, which dances elegantly across the composition.  The scene showcases the political reality that existed between 1795 and 1807, after the ‘Three Partitions of Poland’, but before the revisions of the Treaty of Tilsit (1807).  During this period, Poland ceased to be an independent state, its territory having been carved up and occupied by neighbouring powers, in stages, in 1772, 1793 and 1795.  As shown here, the Polish lands taken by Prussia are bathed in a light blue wash; the territories occupied by Hapsburg Austria are coloured in green; while the lands consumed by Russia are coloured yellow.  The map is finely detailed, depicting all major cities, towns, rivers and mountain ranges.  The insets, in the lower left corner, feature a city plan of Warsaw, flanked by text, which explains the dismemberment of Poland, as well as providing statistics as to the land area and populations of the different partition sectors.


The map is based upon one of the era’s finest European map of Poland, William Faden’s A Map of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania including Samogitia and Curland divided according to their dismemberments with the Kingdom of Prussia (London, 1799).  Faden, in turn, based his geography on Giovanni Rizzi-Zanonni’s famous 1772 wall map of Poland.


The Enlightenment in Ottoman Turkey & the ‘Cedid Atlas’


The Ottoman Empire was for centuries one of the greatest cultural and intellectual civilizations of Europe, Asia and Africa.  While it maintained significant social and academic exchange with Western Europe, through most of the 18th Century, Ottoman Turkey followed its own course, and was not swept up by the revolutionary changes of the European Enlightenment.  The Ottoman elite was highly conservative by nature and often struck down proposals for Western-style reforms and technological innovations.


Of great relevance to our story was the magnificent, yet brief, ‘false start’ of Islamic printing in the Ottoman Empire.  Traditionally, while certain minority groups, such as Jews and Armenians, had quietly printed works in the Ottoman Empire for their own use, printing was generally banned.  However, in 1729, Ibrahim Müteferrika, an esteemed intellectual and court official of Hungarian origin, was permitted to set up his own press, issuing the first-ever printed works in the Islamic world.  Significantly, Müteferrika published the first maps in the Muslim world, within his printing of Katip Çelebi’s 1648 manuscript, Cihannuma [Universal Geography] (Istanbul, 1732).  While these maps were both pioneering and beautiful, they were of a small scale, and the Cihannuma was not an atlas, but rather a pedagogical text.  Unfortunately, Müteferrika’s publishing activities offended the Ottoman court’s more conservative members, and the press was shut down in 1743.  For the next two generations, printing by Muslims in the Ottoman Empire was effectively banned.


Enter Sultan Selim III (reigned 1789 – 1807), a youthful, daring reformer, who was determined to drag his court, and his country’s institutions, kicking and screaming into the modern era.  The Ottoman Empire was falling behind its Western rivals.  It had been defeated by Russia and Hapsburg Austria in several wars, resulting in territorial losses.  The pre-industrial Ottoman economy was lagging, yielding revenue insufficient to maintain the public establishment.  Something drastic had to be done.


Selim III embarked upon the Nizam-ı Cedid [نظام جديد‎ / ‘New Order’] a programme of taxation, education, legal and military reforms, designed to improve the economy, strengthen the army, and to reduce corruption and inefficiency.  The reforms were heavily influenced by the European Enlightenment, albeit with Turkish twists.  While the Sultan’s reforms were heartily embraced by his more cosmopolitan courtiers, powerful elements of the Ottoman elite who benefitted from the inefficiency and corruption of the traditional system bitterly resented the new order, and plotted behind the scenes.  It is fair to say that Selim III’s course was as dangerous as it was enlightened.


In 1795, as key part of his grander agenda, Selim III established the Imperial Military Engineering School at Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul, in order to train a Western-style professional army.  A printing press was soon established on the premises to publish military and scientific works that could educate the cadets, as well as to inform the Ottoman court.  Importantly, it was one of the first state sanctioned presses established in the empire since Müteferrika’s time.


Enter Mahmud Raif Efendi (c. 1760 – 1807), an Ottoman intellectual, diplomat and painter, who was one of the brightest lights of the Nizam-ı Cedid.  While serving as the First Secretary to the Ottoman Ambassador to London, Mahmud Raif became fascinated with Western European cartography, including the works of William Faden.  He believed that introducing empirical cartography to the Ottoman elite would be of great service to the Nizam-ı Cedid.


Upon his return to Istanbul, Mahmud Raif Effendi set about creating an atlas entirely in Ottoman Turkish that embraced the best of Western European cartography.  The resulting Cedid Aṭlas Tercümesi was published at the Imperial Military Engineering School Press in 1803-4.  It featured 1 celestial chart, plus 24 maps (of which the present map of Poland is no. 16) of all parts of the world based on Faden’s General Atlas.  Additionally, the work featured Mahmud Raif Effendi’s original 80-page geographic study, Icaletul-Cografiye.  As evidenced by the present map, the plates were engraved with great skill and flair, as Western mapmaking was married to the glorious Ottoman calligraphic tradition.  So was realized the first atlas based on European geographic knowledge published in the Islamic World.


The Cedid Aṭlas was an extremely expensive, lavish publication, intended for the exclusive use of the Sultan and his court, as well as to inform military officers and elite cadets.  It is recorded to have been printed in only 50 examples, although several dozen more examples were likely issued unofficially.  That being said, it is thought that only around a dozen complete examples of the atlas survive to this day.  A special example was presented to Sultan Selim III, while the majority of other examples were given to important state institutions and to senior courtiers. 


In 1807, the Janissaries, an elite and privileged (yet, by this period, bloated and corrupt) Ottoman military class mounted a revolt against Selim III.  They resented the sultan’s plan to seemingly replace them with the modern, Western-style Nizam-ı Cedid Army that was, in part, being trained at the Imperial Military Engineering School.  They successfully overthrew Selim III, ransacked New Order institutions and murdered many of the Sultan’s enlightened courtiers.  Sadly, Mahmud Raif Effendi was slain, an obvious target due to his prominent place in the intellectual firmament of the regime.  In 1808, during a counter-coup, which eventually resulted in the installation of Mahmud II as sultan, it is thought that many of the examples of the Cedid Atlas warehoused in Üsküdar were destroyed.  Ottoman cartographic publishing would not produce works of a level comparable to the Cedid Atlas until the rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II in the late 19th Century.


A Note on Rarity


The present map of Poland from the Cedid Atlas is extremely rare; we are not aware of another example of the map appearing separately on the market during the last generation.  It tends to be the gem missing from even the best Poland and Lithuania map collections.


References: Library of Congress: G1019 .T2 1803 (map 16).  Cf. [For Background on creation of the Cedid Atlas:] Kemal Beydilli, Türk Bilim ve Matbaacilik Tarihinde Mühendishâne ve Kütüphanesi (1776-1826) (Istanbul, 1995); Pinar Emiralioglu, Geographical Knowledge and Imperial Culture in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (London, 2016).