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Washington DC: Jesuit world map on display

Fr Matteo depicted on Italian postage stamp.

Fr Matteo depicted on Italian postage stamp.

A rare map of the world, drawn in 1602 by a Jesuit missionary to China, Fr Matteo Ricci,   has gone on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

The 400-year-old map identifies Florida as 'the Land of Flowers' and put China at the centre of the world.

The map, measuring 5.5 feet by 12.5 feet,  is believed to be the first one in Chinese showing the Americas.

Fr Ricci, (1552-1610) a Jesuit missionary from Italy, was the first Westerner to visit what is now Beijing in the late 1500s. Known for introducing Western science to China, Ricci created the map in 1602 at the request of Emperor Wanli.

The map includes pictures and inscriptions describing different regions of the world. Africa was noted to have the world's highest mountain and longest river. The description of North America is brief with mentions of 'humped oxen', wild horses and a region named 'Ka-na-ta.'

Ricci wrote: "In olden days, nobody had ever known that there were such places as North and South America or Magellanica. But a hundred years ago, Europeans came sailing in their ships to parts of the sea coast, and so discovered them."

This map - one of only two in good condition - was purchased by the James Ford Bell Trust in October for $1 million, making it the second most expensive rare map ever sold.

Bell, who is also president of the American Association of Museums, said the map symbolizes the first connection between Eastern and Western thinking and commerce.

But some scholars say that Chinese ships had visited and mapped the Americas in pre-Colombian times.

The map is on display at the Library of Congress, until 10 April. The exhibit is free and open to the public from 8.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Saturday, in the Northwest Pavilion on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St, SE Washington, DC.

For more information see: www.loc.gov