Aethiopia Inferior vel Exterior. Partes magis Septentrionales, quae hic desiderantur, vide in tabula Aethiopiae Superioris


CARTOGRAPHER: Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638).


PUBLICATION:  Amsterdam, W.J. Blaeu , 1635.


DIMENSIONS: 38 x 50 cm. Coloured outline. Scale in German miles.


TECHNOLOGY: Copperplate engraving.


ENGRAVER: Not mentioned.


VERSO:  A description of Kaffraria, Monomotapa, Congo, Zanzibar, Quiloa, Mombaza and Ajana.


CONDITION :Small tears in the margin in the upper left and upper right corners with feint signs of water damage, also in the margins which would disappear under the mounting if framed.  Superficial surface dirt in the upper left and right margins. The face of the map is unspoilt.


REFERENCE:  Norwich #154.


VALUE:   This map is a sought-after representation of Europe’s understanding of southern Africa prior to the establishment of a Dutch settlement at the Cape. The map is beautifully engraved by Willem Blaeu in the best tradition of Dutch cartography never to be surpassed again, is hand-coloured and is a cornerstone of most collections of maps of southern Africa or the African continent.

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This handsome map by Willem Janszoon Blaeu which was published a mere 15 years before Jan van Riebeeck came to the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 was the standard map of southern Africa throughout the 17th century. Originally published in 1634, it went into many editions and was copied by various other cartographers and publishers such as Jansson (1640); Merian (1649), Ogilby (1670), Frederik de Wit (1694) and Van der Aa (1729). During the 1660s Willem Blaeu’s son Joan Blaeu also included this map into his famous 12 volume Atlas Maior of more than 500 maps which was published not only in Dutch, but also in Latin, French, German, Italian and Spanish..


The title of Blaeu’s map merits explanation. Contrary to our modern understanding of Ethiopia as the name of a country in north-east Africa, Ethiopia on the eve of the European Renaissance  was conceived as a sociological space signifying all territories south of the Sahara and Egypt, a world unknown to Europe. The map features a decorative courtouche in the right lower corner with the title displayed on an ox skin which is held up by an indigenous African on either side. There are monkeys and tortoises around the base, as well as a line scale marked in German miles.  To compensate for the lack of information, various animals are depicted on the mainland, the most recognisable of which are two elephants near the Mocambique coast. Two sailing ships appear in the Atlantic Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean.  Most of the place names along the coast, such as Ahoa de Saldanha, C. de Boa Speranca (Cape of Good Hope), and C. de San Francisco (Cape St Francis)  are still of Portuguese origin,  with some in Latin, and a few in Dutch – Tafel bay, Vis Baij, Vleys Baij and Mossel Bay. A legendary lake, Zachaf Lacus, is depicted as the source of the river Zambere  which splits into two large rivers, the  Zambesi) which enters the Indian Ocean at Quelimane, and the the Rio de Spirito Santo (Limpopo) which reaches the ocean further south.


Legendary cities such as Vigiti Magna, Samot,  Belguras, Camissa and Davagul appear on the map, as well as the name Monomotapa which is here ascribed to the entire eastern half of southern Africa. The first Commanders of the settlement at the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck (1652-1662) and  Zacharias Wagenaar (1662-1666), firmly believed in the existence of these cities and the Kingdom of Monomotapa. Using Blaeu’s map as reference map, they sent several search parties into the interior of southern Africa to locate these places. The inability of the expeditions to find these cities and the riches of Monomotapa was a bitter disappointment to the VOC.