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In Search of Prester John and the ‘River of Gold’. Mecià de Viladestes’ Map and Late Medieval Knowledge about Africa

Gerda Brunnlechner EMAIL logo


Mecià de Viladestes’ nautical map provides many-faceted incentives to travel down the African west coast, emphasising especially Africa’s riches in gold and the presence of a Christian ruler known as Prester John. Understanding maps not as a conclusive result of the collection of knowledge but as a means of communication, this article aims to explore the relations between contemporary Latin European conceptions about Africa, its representations on maps and their probable argumentative objectives. From Latin-African contacts the idea had arisen to form an alliance to fight the Muslims, attacking from two directions. The representation of sub-Saharan Africa on Mecià’s map can be interpreted as taking up this discussion to argue for further exploration of Africa down its Atlantic coast, which might have influenced future decision makers such as Henry the Navigator.


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This article arose as a byproduct to the work on my PhD project on the so-called ‘Genoese World Map’ dated 1457, which has been kindly supported by scholarships from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, the German Historical Institute in Rome, the Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani in Venice, and the FernUniversität in Hagen, to which I am very grateful.

Published Online: 2019-01-09
Published in Print: 2018-11-01

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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