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Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia

National Museum of Singapore - Joy of Museums - Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia

Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia from 1570 shows the Malay Peninsula as an elongated extension of mainland Southeast Asia. Modern-day Singapore is depicted and labelled as “Cincapura”. Tha map is illustrated with mermaids and imaginary sea monsters.

The mapmaker was Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish cartographer and geographer, recognised as the creator of the first modern atlas, the “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” or “Theatre of the World”. He was one of the founders of the Netherlandish school of cartography in its golden age; he is also believed to be the first person to imagine that the continents were joined together before drifting to their present positions.

This map represents the best information on Southeast Asia and the East Indian Islands, at that time. It integrates the information from Italian, Portuguese and Spanish sources. The map is a ‘milestone’ map in the cartography of Southeast Asia and the East Indian Islands. Interesting features on the map include:

  • The title of this map is ‘Indiae Orientalis Insularumque Adiacentium Typus’ meaning “East Indies and surrounding islands”.
  • The Portuguese coat-of-arms are shown. Symbolic of the dominant influence of the Portuguese in the region.
  • A banner promotes the Moluccan Islands for the “export fragrant spices all over the world”.
  • The map of Japan is distorted into the “kite-shaped” introduced by Gerardus Mercator, a German-Flemish cartographer of the period.
  • Fearsome sea monsters attack a disabled ship off the shore of America
  • Two mermaids comb their hair with sea-shell hand mirrors
  • Singapore is shown as “Cincapura”, Siam as “Sian” and Cambodia as “Camboia”
  • The Ptolemaic great southern continent of “Beach, pars continentis Australis” is shown below Java Major
  • The map of New Guinea states that “Andreas Corsalus names this land Piccinaculi, and whether it is an island or part of a southern continent is unknown”.
  • China is shown without a Korean peninsula
  • Ortelius follows Mercator’s influence by placing the mythical Lake Chyamai northeast of India and showing it as the source of numerous rivers.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                 Abraham Ortelius Map of Southeast Asia
  • Author:            Abraham Ortelius ( 1527 – 1598)
  • Dates:               1570
  • Type:                Chart Map
  • Material:          Paper
  • Museum:         National Museum of Singapore


“A given excuse that was not asked for, implies guilt.” Singaporean / Malay Proverb



Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons