1902 Encyclopedia > Geography > Italian Travellers of 15th Century. Mariner's Compass.

(Part 12)

Italian Travellers of 15th Century. Mariner's Compass.

Several Italian continued to make important journey in the East during the 15th century. Among them was Nicolo Conti, who passed through Persia, sailed along the coast of Malabar, visited Sumatra, Java, and the south of China, returned by the Red Sea, and got home to Venice in 1444, after an absence of twenty-five years. He related his adventures to Poggio Bracciolini, secretary to Pope Eugenius IV.; and the narrative contains must interesting information. Towards the end of the same century, the Venetians sent several embassies to Uzun Hasssan, the ruler of Persia, and to Shah Ismail, his successor; and the narratives of the envoys furnish some new geographical information. The first of these was Caterino Zeno, who induced Uzun Hassan to make war on the Turks in 1472; and he was followed by Josafat Barbaro and Ambrogio Contarini. Another Venetian traveler of this period, whose narrative has been preserved, was Giovan Maria Angiolello. He was in the service of the Turks, and was present in their campaign against the Persians. One of the most remarkable of the Italian travelers was Ludovico di Varthema, whose insatiable desire to see foreign countries induced him to leave his native land in the year 1502. He went to Egypt and Syria, and for the sake of visitng the holy cities became a Mahometan. After many extraordinary adventures he got on board a ship at Aden. Varthema is the first European who gave an account of the interior of Yemen. He afterwards visited and described many places in Persia, India, and the Eastern Archipelago, returning to Europe in a Portuguese ship after an absence of five years.

In mentioning Varthema we have anticipated events; but in the 15th century the time was approaching when the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope was almost indefinitely to widen the scope of geographical enterprise. The great event was preceded by the discovery of the polarity of the magnetic needle, and the consequent construction of the mariner’s compass. This most important discovery appears to have been made in China, and it is uncertain when the compass was first used by Western nations. Its introduction has been attributed to Flavio Gioia, a citizen of Amalfi, in the kingdom of Naples, about the year 1307. Encouraged by the possession of this sure guide, by which at all times and in all places he could with certainly steer his course, the navigator gradually abandoned the method of sailing along the shore, and boldly committed his bark to the open sea. Navigation was then destined to make rapid progress. The growing spirit of enterprise, combined with the increasing light of science, prepared the states of Europe for entering upon that great career of discovey, of which the details constitute the materials for the history of modern geography. Portugal took the lead in this new and brilliant path, and foremost in the front rank of the worthies of this little hero-nation stands the figure of Prince Henry the Navigator.

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