The Italian Almanac

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Italian History - November 19

The oldest map of anywhere in the western world, dating from about 500 BC, has been unearthed in southern Italy. Known as the Soleto Map, the depiction of Apulia, the heel of Italy's "boot", is on a piece of black-glazed terracotta vase about the size of a postage stamp. The map details the Puglia region of southern Italy. It was found in a dig led by the Belgian archaeologist Thierry van Compernolle, of Montpellier University, two years ago. But its existence was kept secret until more research was carried out.

"The map offers, to date, for the Mediterranean, and more generally for western civilisation, the oldest map of a real space," the university said recently. Its engraved place names are indicated by points, just as on maps today, and are written in ancient Greek. The sea on the western side, Taras (Taranto), today's Gulf of Taranto, is named in Greek. But the rest of the map is in Messapian, the ancient tongue of the local tribes, although the script is ancient Greek. The seas on either side of the peninsula, the Ionian and the Adriatic, are depicted by parallel zig-zag strokes.

Many of the 13 towns marked on the map, such as Otranto, Soleto, Ugento and Leuca (now called Santa Maria di Leuca) still exist. The map went on public display for the first time this week in the Archaeological National Museum of Taranto.