1611 Bongars / Vesconte Crusader Plan of Jerusalem

[Jerusalem.] - Main View

1611 Bongars / Vesconte Crusader Plan of Jerusalem


Earliest acquirable medieval plan of Jerusalem.


  1611 (undated)     10.25 x 7.75 in (26.035 x 19.685 cm)


This rare plan of Jerusalem is the earliest printed iteration of Pietro Vesconte's manuscript plan of the city. While not committed to print until this 1611 edition by Jacques Bongars, the map is the work of the 14th-century Venetian cartographer Vesconte, who produced it c. 1320 to promote Marino Sanudo's proposed crusade to recapture the city. As such, it is one of the earliest surviving plans to support a specific military effort.
Reading the Plan
As it was bound into Bongars' work, the plan is oriented to the south (as indicated by the plate number at the upper left corner). Bongars has, however, rotated the composition ninety degrees to fit the sheet. The manuscript original is oriented to the east, and this is reflected in the orientation of Bongars' engraved text. (We have pictured the plan with its proper eastern orientation.) The plan includes not only the walled city of Jerusalem, but also embraces the surrounding region as far as the village of Bethany to the east. Towns, forts, and towers are shown pictorially and fig palms are pictured. All are rendered in the manner of Vesconte's original, 14th-century manuscript.
The Basis of the Plan
Vesconte's 14th-century manuscript has no clear precursor. Its sources include both the ancient descriptions of Josephus (c. 37 - c. 100) and the firsthand medieval reports of Burchard of Mount Sion (fl. late 13th century). The latter was one of the last westerners to write about a visit to Jerusalem prior to its fall to Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil in 1291. His reports would have been of particular interest to Sanudo: Burchard, in his own turn, also proposed a new Crusade. Like Sanudo's, Burchard's plan called for a preliminary conquest to form a jumping-off point for the retaking of Jerusalem - although his initial target was not Sanudo's Egypt, but the Orthodox lands of Serbia and Constantinople.
A Practical Plan of Jerusalem
Sanudo, Vesconte, and Burchard were all Western Christians and their primary interest in Jerusalem and the Holy Land was its carried weight of Biblical history: consequently the plan includes the holy sites the proposed crusade was intended to seize. For instance, near the village of Bethany is the fig tree cursed by Jesus. At the center of the plan is the Palace and Temple of Solomon. The plan also includes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Medieval features, such as the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives appear as well. Significantly, the plan also offers a practical focus: it details the city's walls, and emphatically its water supply, here dramatically exaggerated. The Kidron is depicted as a huge river, nearly enclosing Jerusalem like a moat. While not based on any sort of systematic survey, the depiction of the city emphasizes a physically real city with its fortifications, and neighboring villages with their own forts.
Promoting a New Crusade
This plan of Jerusalem was not intended for the religious edification of the armchair pilgrim, but rather as part of a practical set of suggestions in anticipation of an actual attempt to sieze the city. While it would not have been of use to actual soldiers in the field, its purpose, and that of the portolan maps accompanying it, was to convince the leaders of Western Europe - Pope John XXII and King Charles IV of France - of the practicality of a new crusade. It appeared in the Venetian diplomat Marino Sanudo's Liber secretorum fidelium crucis (Book of Secrets for True Crusaders), which detailed his proposed effort to take the Holy Land for the Christian West.
Publication History and Census
This printed edition of the plan appeared in Jacques Bongars' 1611 Gesta Dei per Francos, sive Orientalium expeditionum, et regni Francorum Hierosolimitani historia which collected in one volume the surviving medieval texts pertaining to France's role in the crusades. As such, it presented in print for the first time the full complement of Vesconte's maps. (The map specifically of the Holy Land, dubbed the Sanuto-Vesconte map, found its way into several of the printed editions of Ptolemy's Geographia, but the other maps such as this remained neglected.) The book, while well-represented in institutional collections, was printed in a single edition and its maps are rare on the market. One example of the separate map is listed in OCLC.


Jacques Bongars (1554 - July 29, 1612) was a French scholar and diplomat. Born in Orléans nand raised as a Huguenot, he would receive most of his early education in Germany before returning to Orléans and Bourges. He joined the service of Ségur Pardaillan, a courtier to Henry, king of Navarre (later Henry IV of France.) Pardaillan sent him in 1587 on a mission to northern Europe, and later England to obtain help from Queen Elizabeth for Henry of Navarre. He continued to travel on behalf of Henry, and to the detriment of the house of Habsburg. His service continued until the king's murder in 1610. He died in Paris not long after. Bongars produced several books, including Gesta Dei per Francos, a collection of early works pertaining to the Crusades, with a particular focus on French participation in them. More by this mapmaker...

Marino Sanudo (or Sanuto) Torsello (c. 1270 – 1343) was a Venetian statesman and geographer. He is best known for his efforts to instigate a new crusade to the Holy Land. This lifelong task resulted in his book, 'Liber Secretorum Fidelium Crucis (Book of Secrets for True Crusaders) which would be supplented by an array of the earliest surviving portolan charts of the Mediterranean coast and the Black Sea, executed by Pietro Vesconte. Sanudo was born to an aristocratic trading family in Venice around 1270; his father was a member of the Venetian Senate. In his youth Sanuto traveled broadly, visiting in time Acre, Greece, Romania, Palestine, Egypt, Armenia, Cyprus and Rhodes. He would eventually join the entourage of the Doge of Venice; after 1305 he attended Cardinal Riccardo Petroni in Rome.

He was a vigorous correspondent, particularly with travelers whose reach had extended beyond his own.

Perhaps related to his early experiences in Acre - which fell rapidly to Muslim forces shortly after his visit there - Sanuto was a lifelong advocate of a crusade to capture the Holy Lands for the west. While he was certainly not alone among such instigators, his emphasis on strategy, practical financial backing, and detailed modern cartography set his proposals apart. His long term approach - with a preparatory blockade of and capture of Egypt to secure the invasion's flank - was never implemented. Nevertheless his book, often revised and updated, would find its way into the hands of not only the Pope but also King Charles IV of France. At least eleven manuscript copies are known to survive. Its complement of maps by Vesconte are the earliest medeival maps intended for military purposes. Learn More...

Pietro Vesconte (fl. 1310-1330) was a Genoese cartographer and geographer. His early portolan charts set the standard for such works produced in both Italy and Spain throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Very little is known of his life. He was born in Genoa, but produced the bulk of his work in Venice. His charts - among the first of any to be signed and dated - remain among the earliest to accurately chart the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea; his works contain some of the earliest attempts to chart the British Isles. In addition to his separate charts, he is known to have authored no fewer than four manuscript navigational 'atlases,' consisting of particular navigational charts that could be joined to make a larger, general one. His work was groundbreaking in its accuracy: the mappamundae that characterize this period were not characterized by precision, being more in the way of mnemonic aids for the study of the world by people unlikely to actually travel it. Many of his works, however, focused on the Holy Land, and these were produced in order to encourage a crusade to those regions. Learn More...


Bongars, J., Gesta Dei per Francos, siue Orientalivm expeditionvm, et regni Francorvm hierosolimitani historia a variis, sed illius æui scriptoribus, litteris commendata: nunc primùm aut editis, aut ad libros veteres emendatis , (Hanover: Wechel) 1611.    


Excellent. Deckled right margin, close at lower right but margins complete. A fine example with a bold strike.


OCLC 234166943. Laor, E. Maps of the Holy Land 1145.