An exhibition that will have map geeks drooling has opened in central London, with an astonishing collection of antique maps of Persia.

Equally astonishing is that the room was entirely empty on my visit, which really should be a rare aberration for this is a truly remarkable exhibition.


Following 20 years of research the noted scholar, Dr Cyrus Ala’i  produced a monumental cartobibliography of the maps he collected, and now, part of that collection has been donated to SOAS, and put on display.

The collection includes important printed general maps of Persia and more specialist items from the early editions of Ptolemy, at the end of the 15th century, up until the end of the Qajar dynasty in 1925.


The exhibition has been laid out thematically, with groupings of maps based on the nationality of the people producing them — the Dutch, the French, the Russians, the English, one section on the curious difficulty of mapping the Caspian Sea, and another on the major cities.

These maps illustrate how cartography and the mapping of the region advanced with scientific accuracy in detail, whilst not ignoring their often artistic and design elements.


Display boards explain the history of map making by each of the European powers, and how maps were both tools, and occasionally, victims to power politics.

Maps were difficult in part due to the nature of mapping in those times, but also due to the cultural bias against them for security reasons by governments and privacy/religious regions by the residents.


Many of the maps included in the exhibition are being shown publicly together for the first time.

Also on display is the collector’s monumental cartobibliography, and a number of pages from the Illustrated London News on the visit by the Shah of Iran to the UK.


Anyone interested in maps, whether for their historical, or artistic merit will surely love this exhibition.

The exhibition is at the Brunei Gallery until 21st March, entry is free.

Open Tues-Sat 10:30-5pm, with a late night on Thursday to 8pm.

Don’t forget to visit the roof garden if you’ve never been before.






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  1. Annie S says:

    Will definitely go and have a look, they have some really good exhibitions at the Brunei, I think a lot of people don’t know about it,
    If you visit around lunch times you can also get a free (or give a donation) for a vegetable curry from the Hare Krishna people in the courtyard of the SOAS 🙂

  2. Peter says:

    Loved it – thank you once again, Ian!

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