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Number: 3650
Continent: Africa
Region: East
Place Names: ERITREA / ETHIOPIA / DJIBOUTI Yemen, Red Sea, Massawa, Aden
Year of Origin: 1885
Title: Parte Meridionale del Mar Rosso. / Alla Sacra Maesta di Umberto Primo Re d'Italia. Omaggio di profonda devozione del C. Virano.
Language: Italian
Publish Origin: Rome
Height: 69.0
Width: 50.5
Units: centimeters
Size Class.: Medium
Scale: 1 : 1,750,000
Color Type:
Click for high-resolution zoomable image
Cartographer: Carlo Virano
Other Contributors:
Northernmost Latitude: 21.0
Southernmost Latitude: 10.3
Westernmost Longitude: 36.6
Easternmost Longitude: 44.9
Measurement Notes: Ferro prime on map converted in database to modern Greenwich coordinates
Notes: [Pahor source] Colour lithograph, dissected into 12 sections and mounted upon original linen, (map clean and bright with lovely original colours; Grey board cover detached; A grand 'presentation piece', being a large, separately issued map of Eritrea and the southern part of the Red Sea, issued to celebrate the recent 'Spedizione militare italiana in Africa' that in 1885 secured Massawa, Italy's first major colonial base, resplendently lithographed by the Italian royal cartographer Carlo Virano and dedicated to King Umberto I, exceedingly rare. This exceedingly rare separately issued work is perhaps the most beautiful early colonial printed map of Eritrea and the southern Red Sea region. Dedicated to King Umberto I (reigned 1878 - 1900), and bearing the Royal Arms of the House of Savoy, it was produced by Carlo Virano as a resplendent presentation piece for VIPs to celebrate the 'Spedizione militare italiana in Africa', the military venture that in early months of 1885 secured Massawa, Italy's first major colonial base, an event that was the true genesis of the sixty-year long Italian presence on the Horn of Africa. The main map embraces the southern half of the Red Sea, extending from just north of Suwakin (Sudan) and Al Lith (Saudi Arabia) all the way south, past the coasts of Eritrea and through the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb to the Gulf of Aden. Employing resplendent colours, the map features excellent coverage of the coastal lands and the highlands above. According to the key on the left-hand side, lands or enclaves controlled by Italy are outlined or underlined in light green; Britain in pink; French in purple, and the Ottoman Empire in yellow; while Abyssinia is outlined in a lavender hue. The map notes the vicinity of Assab Bay, in far south-eastern Eritrea, as being Italian territory (having been settled by the Italians in 1882), while the recently seized key port of ?Massaua? (Massawa), in the middle of the Eritrean coast, is underlined in green. Curiously, the map shows not only Sudan to be a British zone, but also much of Eritrea; this is supposedly done as a sign of the Italians? deference to Britain, then the ultimate superpower, which tacitly supported Italy?s colonial ventures on the Horn of Africa. To south of Eritrea is Somaliland, including the fledgling French colonial enclaves in what is today Djibouti. In the interior, above Eritrea, is the ancient and venerable Abyssinian Empire (Ethiopia), labelling Tigre Province and many cities and towns, incusing Axum, the great holy city of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. On the other side of the Red Sea, the map provides excellent coverage of the coast of Yemen and Asir (Saudi Arabia). As the map notes, the depiction of much of Yemen is predicated upon the recent mapping done by the Italian explorer Renzo Manzioni in 1877 and 1878. The Yemeni coast features the British Royal Navy?s coastal bases, notably Perim Island, guarding the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb, the ?Gate of Tears?, the Red Sea?s entrance to the Indian Ocean. In terms of its sources, the charting of the coasts is generally based upon British Admiralty surveys, while some of the mapping around Massawa and Assab is predicated upon recent Italian military reconnaissance. However, much of the information in the interior is taken from the maps, sketches and textual descriptions of explorers, including the route of the British force that invaded Abyssinia in 1868; M?ziger (1871-5); Merewether (1867); Rohlfs (1881); Lefebvre (1843); Sapeto (1851); Pennazzi (1883-4); Bianchi (1884); the Price of Coburg (1862); Reil (1868); Hilldebrandt (1872); Heuglin (1876); Pearce (1867) Phayre (1867); as well as the recent official Italian expedition into Abyssinia led by Gustavo Bianchi (1883-4). The composition is augmented by two large cartographic insets. First, the map ?Itinerario della Spedizione Militare Italiana in Africa?, in the upper-left corner, encompasses a grand scope, running from South-eastern Europe, all the way down to include the entire Red Sea region. Notably, it depicts the route of the Italian military expedition of January-March 1885, that sailed in two waves from Naples, through the Suez Canal, stopping at the British-held part of Suwakin, before going on to consolidate Italy?s hold over Assab Bay and, most importantly, seizing control of Massawa, Italy?s first major colonial base. Second, the ?Carta di Assab e dintorni?, provides a wonderfully detailed perspective upon the Italy?s first colonial beachhead, the fine natural harbour of Assab Bay in the far southeast of Eritrea. While the Italians purchased Assab Bay in 1869-70 from local leaders, it was not until 1882 that they established a permanent presence there. The map, based upon the most recent Italian military surveys, depicts the area in great detail, noting the Italian wharf; the local village; roads; caravan routes; ancient tombs, as well as, curiously, the ?ruins? of a ?Persian City? (an incorrect cultural attribution). This grand ?presentation piece? celebrating the success of the ?Spedizione militare italiana in Africa? was issued in the immediate wake of the events; the Gazzetta Ufficiale del Regno d?Italia notes that the map received an official patent on May 21, 1885. Historical Background: Italian Reunification and the Quest for Colonial Glory During and in the wake of the Risorgimento Italy endeavoured to become a great world power, which would only be possible if it acquired overseas colonies, as had Britain and France, etc. Italian explorers, business leaders and politicians initially focussed their attention upon the Horn of Africa, in good part due to its strategic location by the Red Sea, along the world?s greatest shipping route, recently opened upon the completion of the Suez Canal, in 1869. The father of Italian colonial ambitions was the priest and adventurer Giuseppe Sapeto. In 1869-70, he arranged for the Rubbatino Shipping Company to purchase the excellent natural harbour of Assab, in the far south-east of Eritrea, from local chiefs. This gave Italy, an albeit tenuous, foothold along the Eritrean coast, although it was not until 1882 that Italy developed it first fixed settlement along the shores of Assab Bay. In the meantime, Italy, under the umbrella of the Societ?Geografica Italiana, sponsored a number of exploring expeditions to Eritrea and Abyssinia to reconnoitre the territory in advance of colonization ventures. The Italian presence along the Eritrean coast was ardently opposed by the Ottoman Empire, which had long claimed the region as part of its domains, even if its practical authority there was virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, France was working to consolidate its presence in French Somaliland (Djibouti), located a short way down the coast from Assab Bay. Britain, the ultimate power in the Red Rea region (having made Egypt a protectorate in 1882, so controlling the Suez Canal) feared French expansion more than all other factors, and so tacitly supported Italian ambitions in the Eritrea as a counterweight, even as it angered the Sublime Porte and Abyssinia. Italy thus believed that it had a ?green light? for colonial expansion. The ?Spedizione militare italiana in Africa?: Italy Secures its First Major Colonial Base While Assab Bay was considered a fine waypoint for shipping, it was not viewed to be a stellar base for colonial expansion, as it lay on the edge of the Danakil Depression, the hottest place in the world, often likened to ?Hell on Earth?. On the other hand, the central coast of Eritrea was viewed to have vast potential, at it likewise possessed fine natural anchorages, as well as access to the fertile and climatically peasant uplands just above the littoral. Thus while Assab Bay was in indispensible beachhead for Italian colonialism, Massawa was to be the foundation of the Italian imperialistic dream. Massawa, while once ruled and still claimed by the Ottomans, was since 1846 held by a small Egyptian garrison of soldiers who had little interest in remaining in the region. With the tacit approval of Britain (which controlled Egypt), the Italian government launched an unprecedented military expedition with the aim of consolidating its hold over Assab Bay and seizing control of Massawa. The ?Spedizione militare italiana in Africa? consisted of two waves. The first force, commanded by Colonel Tancredi Saletta, consisted of 1,000 troops and left Naples on January 17, 1885. As shown on the inset map, Saletta?s force sailed through the Suez, before stopping at the British-controlled Sudanese port of Suwakin; from there they visited Assab and on February 5, 1885 landed at Massawa. The Egyptian garrison voluntarily relinquished the town to the Italians; however, low-grade local resistance prevented Saletta?s force from maintaining control over the perimeters of Assab and Massawa; re-enforcements were needed if the Italian presence was to endure. The second wave of the Spedizione left Naples on February 24, 1885, commanded by General Augustine Ricci, and consisted of 1,600 troops. Arriving in Eritrea shortly thereafter, the combined Italian forces, albeit with some difficulty, managed to secure enduring control over both Assab Bay and Massawa. This marked a major milestone in modern Italian and African history, as the Italy would remain a leading player on the Horn of Africa for the next six decades. Epilogue: Italy?s Founds its ?Colonia Primogenita? The ultimate technical success of the ?Spedizione militare italiana? legitimized Italy?s colonial ambitions on the Horn of Africa in the eyes of the major European powers. During the Berlin Congress (November 15, 1884 ? February 26, 1885) the European powers divided Africa amongst themselves. Italy was awarded Eritrea as a colonial possession while Abyssinia was vaguely designated as a zone of Italian influence. However, the Italians soon became dissatisfied with the boundaries of Eritrea, which hugged the coast, so preventing them from developing the agriculturally-rich Ethiopian Highlands just a short distance inland. During the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1887-9, Italy attempted to prise the frontal ranges of the highlands from Abyssinia. However, they severely underestimated the martial abilities of the Abyssinians, and their forces suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Dogali (January 26, 1887), located to the west of Massawa. Undeterred, Italy redoubled its efforts, allocating 200 million Lira to the cause and sending 20,000 troops to the Eritrean-Abyssinian theatre. Subsequrntly, the Abyssinians retreated from the conflict owing to their internal problems and the threat of a Sudanese Mahdist invasion of their country. At the Treaty of Wuhele (May 2, 1889) that ended the war, the Abyssinians were compelled to cede their borderlands with Eritrea to Italy (including the region containing Asmara, the future Eritrean capital). In 1890, Italy formally declared Eritrea to be its ?Colonia Primogenita? (First-born Colony). Italy would remain in Eritrea for more than fifty years, whereupon it would have a complex, and often acrimonious, relationship with Abyssinia. A Note on Rarity The present map is exceedingly rare. It would have been issued in only a very small print run to serve as a ?presentation piece? to VIPs, such as members of the Italian royal family; senior politicians; key academic figures; as well as the business magnets who financially supported Italy?s colonial schemes. We can trace only a single institutional example of the map, held by the Biblioteca della Societ?Geografica Italiana (Rome). Moreover, we cannot locate any sales records for the map going back 30 years. Carlo Virano: Lithographer to the Italian Court Carlo Virano (fl. 1878 ? 1905) was a lithographer and cartographer based in Rome. Operating a ?boutique? business, his signature were special government commissions of thematic maps produced in small print runs. He gained the favour of King Umberto I, who appointed him royal printer, allowing him to add the ?Real? to his firm name of Stabilimento Cartografico Carlo Virano. In addition to the present grand presentation piece map of Eritrea and the Southern Red Sea, Virano produced a series of geological, hydrographical and medical maps of Italy and its various regions, including the Carte topografiche, idrogratiche e geologiche annesse atla monografia statistica della citta di Roma e campagna romana presentata all?esposizione universale di Parigi (1883); Carta delle circoscrizioni militari del regno d?Italia (1883); Carta geologica della Sicilia (1883); Carta geologica d?Italia (1884); Carta idrografica d?Italia (1887); and the Mortalita per infezione malarica in Ciascun comune del regno d?Italia nei tre anni 1890-1892 (1894). References: Biblioteca della Societ?Geografica Italiana (Rome): IT\ICCU\IEI\0380950; Guiliano GRESLERI et al., Architettura Italiana D?Oltremare: 1870-1940 (1993), p. 336; Bollettino della Societ?geografica italiana (1885), p. 427; The Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society, vol. 6 (1890), p. 425; Gazzetta Ufficiale del Regno d?Italia, Supplemento al numero 207 (August 31, 1885), p. 4.
Last updated: Nov 19, 2020