Format Hardcover
Publication Date 06/06/23
ISBN 9781639364190
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 320

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Here Begins the Dark Sea

Venice, a Medieval Monk, and the Creation of the Most Accurate Map of the World

Meredith Francesca Small

The remarkable story of the cartographic masterpiece—the Venetian mappa mundi—that revolutionized how we see the world.

In 1459 a Venetian monk named Fra Mauro completed an astonishing map of the world. Seven feet in diameter, Fra Mauro’s mappamundi is the oldest and most complete Medieval map to survive into modernity. And in its time, this groundbreaking mappamundi provided the most detailed description of the known world, incorporating accurate observation, and geographic reality, urging viewers to see water and land as they really existed. Fra Mauro's map was the first in history to show that a ship could circumnavigate Africa, and that the Indian “Sea” was in fact an ocean, enabling international trade to expand across the globe. Acclaimed anthropologist Meredith F. Small reveals how Fra Mauro’s mappamundi made cartography into a science rather than a practice based on religion and ancient myths.

Here Begins the Dark Sea brings Fra Mauro’s masterpiece to life as a work of art and a window into Venetian society and culture. In telling the story of this cornerstone of modern cartography, Small takes the reader on a fascinating journey as she explores the human urge to find our way. Here Begins the Dark Sea is a riveting testament to the undeniable impact Fra Mauro and his mappamundi have had over the past five centuries and still holds relevance today.

Meredith F. Small is a professor of anthropology at Cornell University and the author of Our Babies Ourselves; What's Love Got to Do With It? and Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization, also available from Pegasus Books. She has written for Natural History Magazine, Discover, Scientific American, and is a commentator for National Public Radio's All Things Considered. She lives in Philadelphia.

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Endorsements & Reviews

“Around 1450, the Venetian government commissioned a monk named Fra Mauro to make a mappa mundi, a map of the world. His map is a circle nearly 7 feet in diameter, crammed with illustrations and annotations; the work took several years. When it was done, it was the most detailed and accurate map of the known world that anyone had yet made. Here Begins the Dark Sea is an engaging guide to Fra Mauro’s times and techniques.” The Wall Street Journal
"For all interested in maps and the history of exploration, this book is a wonderful read." The Explorers Journal
“A study of one of history’s most influential maps. Small provides a fascinating exploration of the impressively detailed mappa mundi created by Venetian monk Fra Mauro. Interesting and approachable, this book will appeal to any student of geography or world history.” Kirkus Reviews
"Here Begins the Dark Sea is a captivating exploration of Fra Mauro’s creation of the most accurate world map of its time. The book takes readers on a journey through the history of mapmaking, revealing the innovative thinking and dedication that went into Fra Mauro’s masterpiece. It is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the history of mapmaking or medieval geography." Medieval Archives 
Praise for Inventing the World
"Small catalogs a dizzying array of Venetian innovations in this illuminating account. Small enlivens her research with personal anecdotes about her love for Venice, and moves fluidly from one topic to the next. The result is a delightful and informative cabinet of wonders." Publishers Weekly
"Venice does not lack admirers, but this is an inventive addition. An anthropologist at Cornell, Small emphasizes the city’s social structure as she describes “how one small place had an outsized influence on the development of Western culture.” Venice lovers already familiar with plaudits by other travelers and historians will enjoy this different perspective." Kirkus Reviews