Léa Espanet / Photo credit: Gallica / BNF 3:40 p.m., February 28, 2024

In the 12th century, the oldest map of Normandy was made by the Atlas of Idrissi, an Arab geographer under the Norman lord Roger II.

1,000 years later, the map was dusted off by a history professor.

Today's cities were already represented there.

A treasure trove of history.

Passionate about geography, professor and lecturer at the University of Caen, Christophe Maneuvrier, unearthed from the digital library of the BNF (Gallica), the copy of the oldest map of Normandy. 

If the original has disappeared, the National Library of France keeps a copy, directly inspired by the Atlas of the geographer Al-Idrissi, composed of 69 maps representing the entire world and considered a "Bible" by contemporary specialists.


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A “mental image” map

And for good reason, in the 12th century, geography was considered an Arab science - like mathematics - and was therefore not yet widely used in the West.

However, Roger II (1095-1154), count of the Coutances region and who became king of Sicily after his father, ordered a giant planisphere from Al-Idrissi.

The oldest cartographic representation of Normandy is that of Al-Idrissi, Arab geographer at the court of Palermo (upright map, north at top).

Alas, I don't read Arabic.

A Twitter helping hand to help me locate a few Normandy towns?

1/3 pic.twitter.com/20libu5s24

— Christophe Maneuvrier (@Maneuvre) January 17, 2024

Famous scholar, Al-Idrissi drew this map in Palermo around 1150. A pioneer in the matter, since it was not until "the end of the 16th century and especially the 16th century, to see the birth of such representations", said recalled the historian Christophe Maneuvrier, to


Another particularity is that the geographer has never set foot in Normandy: “It is a mental image, an encyclopedic representation based on different observations and testimonies,” adds the historian.

On this map written in Arabic, there are the Channel Sea, the English coasts, and the Seine making Paris an island.

All cities are represented by a circle in six districts, that is to say a rosette.

There we find the towns which still exist today: Honfleur, Rouen, Dieppe, Évreux, Le Tréport and Sées.