The Italian Almanac

color elaboration of the papyrus of Artemidorus

Italian News - January 7

Turin is to uncover the world's oldest surviving map as part of the rich programme of cultural events accompanying February's Winter Olympics.

The 1st-century-BC Papyrus of Artemidorus, which contains the map, will go on display for the first time ever at the city's Palazzo Bricherasio from February 8 to May 7. The parchment, which is over 2.5m long and 32.5cm wide, was found by chance at the end of the 20th century. Its importance has been compared to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It features the account of a trip to Spain of a previously obscure Greek geographer, Artemidorus of Ephesus, and the map, which is unfinished and impossible to relate to any particular region. But what counts is that it shows roads, rivers and settlements in an attempt to depict realistic spatial arrangements; something which makes it the first example of the kind of map used today.

The Papyrus, which was restored by Turin's Egyptian Museum, has had an eventful life. The map and the accounts of Spain were etched on it in Alexandria, Egypt, after Artemidorus - who is known to historians mainly because he was cited by a fellow Greek geographer, Strabo - completed his travels of the Mediterranean. But the project was never finished and the rear of the parchment was later used for sketches of real and mythological animals.

The parchment, along with other documents and letters, later formed part of the material used to prepare a mummy. This made sure it was preserved for posterity .