Goa in bird’s-eye view c. 1596

A Ilha e Cidade de Goa Metropolitana da India E Partes Orientais que esta and 15 Graos da Banda da Norte, Arnoldus and Henricus Van Langren, 1596, source University Utrecht.

Itinerario, also known as ‘the key to the east[1] contains a map of the city of Goa, which is located in Southeastern India.[2] However, Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563-1611), the likely creator of Itinerario, did not create the map. The map was most likely created by Arnoldus and Henricus Van Langren, two brothers from the Van Langren line of cartographers? And, the map was most likely commissioned by Cornelis Claesz (1546-1609), an Amsterdam publisher, printer, and bookseller with a keen sense of marketing.[3]

Maps are always influenced by the worldview of the creators.[4] This fact raises the following question, how can one see if the map was affected by the worldview of the time? This question will be addressed by first providing a quick overview of Van Linschoten and Claesz, followed by an examination of Goa’s map.

Van Linschoten and Claesz

Van Linschoten set out for Goa in 1583. One probable explanation for this journey is that Van Linschoten has always wanted to go to exotic locations.[5] He stayed in Goa until 1588, during which time he gathered a wealth of nautical and commerce knowledge.[6] Some of his sources of knowledge were books or writings that he had obtained through his contacts as an employee of the Archbishop of Goa. The pages of Itinerario also contain extensive information about Goa itself, this is because Van Linschoten was interested in local life, culture, flora and fauna..[7]

Van Linschoten produced this travelogue with the assistance of others, thus the book was made possible by Claesz, a well-known retailer with publishing expertise in the category of travel books.[8] Claesz, in turn, commissioned the Van Langren brothers to make engravings and maps based on Van Linschoten’s journey information.[9]

The journey report was originally known as the Reys-gheschrift, and it was presented to the first Dutch voyage to Asia in 1595[10] This expedition was a success. As a result, the monopoly on the route to the east was broken. Previously, this route to Asia was only known to the Portuguese and so the balance of power was shifted in favour of the Dutch.[11] Later that year, in 1596, the book was published to a larger audience as Itinerario. This edition also included a map of Goa.[12]

Map of Goa

The map depicts a bird’s-eye perspective of Goa. This was a well-known topic at the time; for example, in 1572, a city atlas called civitates orbis terrarum was published by Georg Braun (1541-1622) and Frans Hogenberg (1535-1590) that showed cities in a similar manner; this city atlas was well-known and popular at the time.[13] This city atlas also featured Amsterdam, thus it’s possible that the mapmaker was inspired by this.[14] Furthermore, this method of presenting a city is too hazy for proper navigation, thus the map will only function as a beautiful representation..[15]

This map of Goa was created on extremely thin fine paper and is around the size of a sheet of A2 paper. Originally, the map was meant to be dated 1595 and represent the city of Old Goa and its surrounds, at least according to the writing in the lower left corner. The map’s emphasis is unmistakably on Old Goa. Other villages and towns in the vicinity are barely portrayed. However, religious structures such as monasteries and cathedrals are clearly identified.

As a result, the European metropolis has been elevated to the front, while the non-European settlements in the surrounding countryside have been obliterated. In this sense, the map distorts reality in the same way as Gerardus Mercator’s (1512-1594) worldmap did. Mercator created a global map with skewed proportions. His map depicted Europe and North America as far too huge, and the rest of the world as way too small. This map also place Europe at the centre. However, keep in mind that they did not have sophisticated radars or satellites, making charting the planet extremely challenging.[16]

However, it should be emphasized that it was most likely a decorative map, and therefore the emphasis would be on the most essential section. This would be the city because it was where most of the action took place. Furthermore, the map might have followed Braun and Hogenberg’s lead. Overall, this map looks to be centered on Europe, which is why it can be labeled as a Eurocentric map.

Another factor that explains the emphasis on the city is that Goa was utilized by the Portuguese empire to oversee East Asian affairs in 1595, and it was the place where a Catholic archbishop was headquartered. The above may explain why so much attention is placed on the city’s palaces and religious structures. Unlike the homes on Goa’s map, these structures are represented in enormous and comprehensive detail. The maps from Civitates orbis terrarum also highlight the importance of religious structures.[17] The emphasis on religious buildings may have arisen as a result of the fact that erecting such structures was regarded as a symbol of affluence. It is also a statement of power, because the construction of such enormous structures necessitates some sort of control over local labor. This kind of presentation strongly highlights the fact that Goa must be a rich city.[18]

The element of a prosperous and powerful settlement is further emphasized by the large number of cultivated fields and orchards. This suggests that there is some sort of production going on. Furthermore, there is a big center area beside the riverbanks, as well as a quay on which large warehouses and other production-oriented structures are exhibited, as highlighted by the legend at the upper right, which names the buildings by name and purpose. The laden ships that lie along the quay and in the port symbolize the city’s commercial significance as well. As a result, the wealth of the East are depicted on this map.

The aspect of military strength may be observed on the right side of the map. Armed Portuguese Indiamen can be found near the river’s mouth. These ships, like the forts pictured on the right, could be used to defend the city and Portuguese interests. As a result, this is another another evident sign of authority.

A close examination of the map reveals an Orientalist picture of the east. Certain stereotyped Indian items are depicted. There are elephants on the quay being ridden by dark-skinned individuals, and palm trees have been depicted. Other humans and animals are not depicted. Because elephants are not native to Europe, this adds to the mystery. However, the map depicts a pretty European city in general, thus the Oriental depiction is really a minor element.

City of Goa.
Ships in the river and at the harbor.
Left side of the map filled with cultivated fields.


Goa was renowned as the ‘Pearl of the East’ at the period, which may explain why the representation of a great number of churches, monasteries, and palaces emphasized affluence. The emphasis on Pearl of the East also explains why the cultivated fields have been meticulously detailed. The planted fields, dock buildings, and other production-related structures highlight the aspect of wealth. This is due to some type of trade, which is further underlined by the laden ships in the port. In addition to affluence, strength is highlighted by exhibiting forts and Portuguese ships. Finally, elephants and dark-skinned humans highlight the unusual. All of this demonstrates that Goa lives up to its title as the ‘Pearl of the East’.

[1] Utrecht University Library, ‘Key To The The East: Jan Huygen of Linschoten’s ‘Itinerario’, https://www.uu.nl/bijzondere-collecties-universiteitsbibliotheek-utrecht/collecties/oude-en-bijzondere-drukken/geografische-beschrijvingen/itinerario-van-jan-huygen-van-linschoten (28-11-2019).

[2] Arnold of Langren and Henricus Van Langren, A Ilha E Cidade the Goa Metropolitana Da India E Partes Orientais Que Esta and 15 Graos Da Banda Da Norte, 1596. Engraving on parchment, unknown size (Utrecht UB, MAG: T Fol 133 (Rariora)).

[3]  UU Library, ‘Key to the East‘.

[4] Jeremy Black, Maps and Politics politics (London 1997) 29-58.

[5] E.M. Beekman, ‘Dutch Colonial Literature: Romanticism In The The Tropics’, Indonesia, 34 (1982), 17-39, there 18.

[6] Henry C. Taylor,  ‘EARLY BOOKS ON NAVIGATION AND PILOTING’, The Yale University Library Gazette 39 (1964) 2, 57-66; Pramod K. Nayar, ‘Reviewed Work: Civil and Corrupt Asia: Image and Text in the “Itinerario” and “Icones” of Jan van Huygen van Linschoten by Ernst Van den Boogaart’, The Sixteenth Century Journal 36 (2005) 1, 297-298, there 297-298.

[7] UU Library, ‘Key to the East‘.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Taylor, ‘EARLY BOOKS ON NAVIGATION AND PILOTING’, 57-66; Ramsey Nasr, Isabelle Boon and Nationaal Archief (Den Haag), Het Grote Voc Boek (Zwolle 2017) 18-19.

[12] UU Library, ‘Key to the East‘.

[13] Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum. Cologne, [Peter Von Brachel, et al.], 1572-1618. Six volumes in two bindings. 2º (Utrecht UB, T Fol 212 Rar).

[14] Ibid., 90.

[15] Utrecht University Library, ‘World Cities of the 16th Century’, https://bc.library.uu.nl/16th-century-metropolises-braun-s-hogenberg-s-civitates-orbis-terrarum.

[16] Black, Maps and Politics, 29.

[17] Braun and Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum.

[18] UU Library, ‘Key to the East‘.

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