fol 86v: the inset ‘minimap’ Pt1: from the Black Sea

  • much reduced – 10th April 2017

As described in a previous post (‘A curious orientation’) the map makes more sense to us if it is  flipped –  putting  east to the viewer’s right, and north top-centre, so:

I assume, by default, that these landforms and objects will be real, even if  some items shown on it are likely to have been historical rather than contemporary objects, when this part of the map was made. It seems probable, too, and a majority of the man-made structures will no longer exist.

Beginning to track a course which will suit the  map, and beginning from a point east of north,  the line first crosses an area marked by blue waves  – presumably a sea  – see above [1]. The shore is followed by blank area, before reaching a series of curious, irregular, landforms [2].

And these unique formations are our key to the route, for they tell us that the line has just crossed the Black Sea, and that the traveller is now moving south through Asia Minor.

The pinnacles are drawn from first-hand knowledge, I’d say: accurately showing the characteristically pale arched bases with their darker spots, the horizontal striations above them, and the asymmetrical pointed caps and their leaning tips which characterise Cappadocia’s myriad natural ‘chimneys’.

These formations are found nowhere in the world but in Asia minor – in Cappadocia.

I’ve reversed the detail from fol.86v so that it’s easier to read, for it has been drawn in the point of view of someone travelling  from the north, southward.

‘North’ here  may be true (astronomical) north, or magnetic north – the difference is roughly 12 degrees. (Tech-y notes here).

(1) Black Sea

Coin of Sinope (Black Sea) c.400 BC. A Milesian colony

From the Black sea – less likely, the Caspian – I’ve put the entry into Asia Minor at Trapezus (Trebizond) for reasons explained in a couple of additional posts; rom the map alsone, it might as easily be taken for  Sinope (west from Trapezus: see map shown below).

From that ill-defined point of entry, if one wished to take the shortest possible route to the south and the Mediterranean, one had to pass through the Cilician gates, and that route would pass more-or less  so

Stages (1) and (2). fol.86v inset

However, as I’ve noticed after considering some recent posts by Dana Scott, published on the Voynich mailing lists, the old Byzantine diocesan boundary passed through to Hierapolis en route to the Ionian and Carian coasts of Asia Minor. Although I had earlier proposed Hierapolis as the site for the ‘castle’ in this section of the map, I later discarded it as a possibility because the starry area (the Mediterranean) does not reach so far.  It might, of course, be meant for Ephesus as it once was, or even Pergamon, of which no trace remains after the Turks systematically demolished it.

But  given that boundary, then to posit a route passing from Cappadocia westwards towards the sea would make sense; it would describe the usual postal, pastoral and administrative boundary. What is more, the  minimap does show access to the starry sea as commencing westward of the chimneys and on the notional ‘zero degrees longitude’ of that system apparently employed by the maker of this inset map.

In view of that, I’ve reproduced the substance of my older post about Hierapolis as a general comment.

However, since the castle-fortress is shown set directly on the sea’s perimeter, I can no longer suppose it Hierapolis, and  after treating Cappadocia and linking to the reference cited by Dana etc., some of a great many such castle-fortress sites are considered before moving on to the south-eastern shores of the minimap in the next section.

(2) Cappadocia

Cappadocia’s unique ‘chimneys’ stand as high as ten-storey buildings. They have been inhabited since pre-historic times, and became  the visible cover of large underground towns ~ which are still lived in.

After the Turks invaded, this large  area passed into their possession (12thC), and  Turkish accounts now limit the name  ‘Cappadocia’ to a very small part of the old native territory.

Cappadocia’s extent, something of its history to the fifteenth century, maps and additional photographs are offered by the wiki article  ‘Cappadocia’.

Depending on which older maps you consult, Cappadocia  may be shown stretching the  full distance from the Black- to the Mediterranean seas, or not, but what is sure is that there was only one exit from the southern side, through the Cilician Gates above Tarsus, , so I’d like to consider now various possibilities for the ‘castle-fortress’ which lay along the more direct route, by sea or by land, between Cappadocia and Egypt.

A map made close to when the Voynich manuscript was inscribed shows why the choice of routes was so limited. (the detail rings with green the approx region of Cappadocia).

Pirus de Noha (1414)

….That fifteenth-century map is especially interesting because  it derives from much older source- material, just as the Voynich imagery seems to do.  Pirrus de Noha’s map is said to derive from those of  Pomponius Mella, a Spanish Latin who lived in the 1stC AD.

People in medieval Europe believed, quite rightly, that they were still struggling to recover the intellectual level reached two thousand years before by the Greeks, and from which the Romans had benefitted. So the idea that ‘newest was best’ had little relevance as yet, though both good and bad results followed. Still, the fact is that all medieval authorities believed that the closer to a Roman or Hellenistic period a text was, the more valuable and valid its content.

The main reason for mentioning this now is that we have to be prepared for the minimap’s referring to imagery and source-materials already centuries old by the fifteenth century,though some few details (mainly artificial structures) suggest a revision of the older matter during the medieval centuries.

3. The fortress-castle

Having reached the eastern shore, the sea is drawn as a spiral, alluding incidentally to a theme older than Homer, by which the sea was considered ‘wine dark’ and the ways of the sea a ‘vine-road’ symbolised by the curling tendril.

The vine-tendril motif reappears, more literally drawn, on some later maps made in the south-western Mediterranean. Otherwise it reduces to a technical, dotted scheme meant only to indicate depth and sands.

The  fortress appears to be accessible directly from the sea, and is shown wedged as it were between flanking cliffs or walls.

Note – 10/04/2017.  This structure proved the most difficult detail to certainly identify not just in the map, but in the entire manuscript.  It was not until I drew together a substantial number of other research conclusions earlier this year (2017) that it became clear that the intention had been to represent Constantinople during the years when its emperor was of Latin European birth. (see post ‘Brief note: The Four Flames’, ( March 10th., 2017)


(1) – Black Sea …   (2) – Cappadocia … (3) – Constantinople/Galata.

Map below shows the alternative, land-route between Trebizond and the eastern Mediterranean, through the Cilician gates and Laiazzo/Ayas.


The rest of this post  had originally explored a number of possible locations for that castle’. Now that its identification is finally made, I have deleted the speculative matter.(10/04/2017)

A note on towers and ‘swallow tail’ merlons~ updated 31October 2012~

Square towers are found throughout the older Byzantine territories.

Circular towers were used in Roman fortifications, but it is less rarely appreciated that their military architecture was another case of absorption, this time in the older, Persian (Sassanid etc.) styles. The type appears refreshed in military architecture of western Europe’s  ‘Crusader’ period, so closely associated with the rule of the Normans in Sicily that they are often called ‘Norman’ towers.

chess rook [‘castle’] of the Persian type from Byzantium (9th-12thC)

In art and even in mercantile manuals and other sketches, the ‘swallowtail’ may be used simply as ornament; in the case of the ‘castle’ on f.86v [Beinecke ’85v-and-86r’] it is used symbolically: not to symbolise the Holy Roman Empire, but an area under the control of secular and military Latins.  The same significance attached to the ‘swallowtails’ at Caffa – there decared the city under Latins control – chiefly Genoa.  Within mainland Europe, and especially in the Italian peninsula, the ‘swallowtails’ has a more specific meaning – implying allegiance to the party of the Ghibbelines over the Guelfs.


An example of how Europe built its castles:  complex, heavy, with inbuilt horseshoe-towers.

North Italian Ghibbeline style, with inbuilt towers – unlike the fort in fol.86v


* Crusaders and older texts:

When Frederick Barbarossa came down the ancient road inland, following  the western coast of Asia minor, he crossed the Meander river, and recorded that heriapolis, an ancient city, invested by the Hellenistic rulers, and again remodelled under Roman rule, and which had lain up the valley, was now  ‘no more’.

It is a telling comment, since in order to know what had been there, he must have had access to older texts, or to people who did.  And to know why it mattered that Hierapolis had been obliterated, he had to know something of the older city’s history.





  1. By the end of this section of my work, I was pretty well convinced that the “castle” referred to Laiazzo. It cannot be proven; too little of the medieval architectural corpus remains. But if it were a sweepstakes, I’d be happy to hold that ticket. 🙂


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