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The Map At The Bottom Of The World -Doug Fisher In our quest to establish these mysterious 16th century maps of Antarctica as valid maps having ancient origins, we will track this particular design incarnation back to its initiation into the cartographic archives. The 16th century was a period of heightened world exploration driven by the thriving spice trade and a major discovery by Christopher Columbus in the latter part of the 15th century.
In Columbus had set forth in search of a shorter route to the spice-rich East Indies by sailing west from Europe. Unfortunately he fell short of this goal when he encountered a rather large obstacle that would eventually come to be known as America, but the voyage and its surprising find captured the attention of Europeans intrigued by the adventurous tales of new discovery. The fevered pace of exploration and discovery also drove a strong demand for charts and globes which presented the most recent, up-to-date portrayals of the world.
The strait, which separates the tip of the South American mainland from the small archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, allowed European trade ships direct passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, home of the Spice Islands. Partial blame can be placed on an incomplete report on the area of discovery. Antarctica as depicted on his world globe of Fig. About the only similarity we can see is that it is an oversized rendering of the continent and is offset from the tip of South America creating a narrow passage similar to the Strait of Magellan.
The reason for this misguided placement appears linked to both a pervasively optimistic belief that such a passage would be found and a misleading report that appeared in a German tract printed circa in Augsburg, the Copia der Newen Zeitung auss Presillg Landt New Tidings out of the Land of Brazil: The vessel had been equipped by Nono and Christopher de Haro, in partnership with others.
Two of those ships were intended to explore and describe the country of Brazil, with the permission of the King of Portugal. In fact, they have given a description of an extent of coasts, from six to seven hundred leagues [ to miles], concerning which nothing was known before.
They reached the Cape of Good Hope, which is a point extending into the ocean, very similar to, Nort Assril, and one degree still further. When they had attained the altitude of the fortieth degree, they found Brazil had a point extending into the sea. They have sailed around that point, and ascertained that the country lay, as in the south of Europe, entirely from east to west.
It is as if one crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to go east in ranging the coast of Barbary. After they had navigated for nearly sixty leagues [ miles] to round the Cape, they again sighted the continent on the other side, and steered towards the northwest. But a storm prevented them from making any headway. Driven away by the Tramontane, or north wind, they retraced their course, and returned to the country of Brazil. We can deduce from the numbers provided that the exploration of new coastline began some 1, to 1, miles north of the 40th parallel, somewhere in the range of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
And the same route laid out on a modern map of the continent right which clearly shows that the point extending beyond the 40th parallel was merely the northern shore of the San Matias Gulf.
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If we trace a course along the coastline from the 40th parallel, the shoreline begins to rise at around the mile mark. At the sailors noticed this continuing rise and believed they were heading up the western coast of the continent. Had they been able to sail another 40 miles they would have viewed the closed western end of the bay, but they were deterred by a northwest wind which blew them down and out of the gulf.
After spying this southern coast they began to piece together the extent of their find. While all that was truly witnessed was a waterway of undetermined depth flanked by shorelines to the north and south, it did not prevent the sailors from embellishing with some of their own presuppositions.
And though not directly stating that the inlet was a through passage they do make a strong intimation by equating their brief encounter with the bay as mirroring passage through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea.
He was left visualizing a South American continent that tapered to a point just beyond the 40th parallel, hovering just above the coastline of a land of indeterminable size creating a strait between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.
The only real-world landmass that even comes close in appearance is an atoll, but an atoll approaching this size does not exist. However these two peninsulas, which prove to be impediments in attempting to associate the southern landmass with an existing atoll, become a bit more accommodating as we readjust our sights from two peninsulas extending into a small lagoon to two much, much larger peninsulas extending into a very sizable sea.
It turns out that the two peninsulas actually represent two extremely well known, highly recognizable geographical features existing in the Mediterranean Sea: The overall design of this particular world map shares its pedigree with maps from Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greek maps such as those of Hecataeus and Homer Fig. In turn the whole of the world is surrounded all around by an outer ocean. The Strait of Gibraltar is located at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea forming the only passage between the inner sea and outer ocean.
The point where the southern coast of Turkey veers perpendicularly into the Mediterranean effectively splits each map into two similarly sized halves: Europe composing the northern half and Africa the southern half. In evaluating Africa we notice that both maps round out the normally squared corner between Israel and Egypt creating a continuous sweeping coastline from Syria to Egypt.
Following this coastline from Syria westward, the last third exhibits a significant rise providing a reasonable portrayal of the stepped nature of the North African coast. On a modern map, the northern coasts of Egypt and Libya remain on a level that never rises beyond the 33rd parallel, but toward the west the coastline rises up into the Mediterranean at Tunisia leveling off around the 36th parallel with the combined northern coasts of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
Turning our attention to the upper arm with the Italian and Greek peninsulas sheared away, the only discernable similarity in the rendering of the European continent is their arc. This in no way disqualifies this as an ancient world map as there are major distortions and variances in all ancient maps. The facsimile of that globe Fig. The portion of land protruding from the lower right side of the facsimile depicts a more accurate and improved version of the Iberian Peninsula.
Comparing this portion of land with the actual Iberian Peninsula Fig. In both depictions the peninsula appears as though it were nearly pinched off at the border with France.
Even more telling is the large distinctive point of land at the extreme end of the peninsula corresponding to the southwestern most tip of Portugal where the town of Sagres is located.
The map appears to have a narrower needlelike depiction of this point extending into the Mediterranean Sea, but the version is much more accurate and correctly depicts the point as straddled by two smaller points. The point lying more toward the outer Atlantic being the location of Lisbon, Portugal, and the point lying on the Mediterranean side being the location of Gibraltar. The globe not only mimics these features very well, but also accurately depicts the point corresponding to Gibraltar as lying directly across from the nearest point in Africa approximating the constrictive nature of the Strait of Gibraltar.
The key similarities lie in the accurate portrayal of the Bay of Biscay, and in the three points of land where Lisbon, Sagres, and Gibraltar are located. The Greek peninsula is rendered in a rather primitive fashion as well, yet is detailed sufficiently so as to define a key area of the country: Athens is located midway down a narrow strip of land extending eastward off of the main trunk Fig.
Alongside the site of Athens is a small narrow nub of land jutting back toward the west. This omission could be attributed to many factors, among them the poor condition of the source map or simply an oversight by an ancient cartographer or copyist. The final recognizable detail pertains to Turkey Fig. While this feature alone may not be overly convincing in validating this as a portrayal of Turkey, taken in tandem with the detailing of a small hook-shaped peninsula extending off the western coast, the combined features should prove sufficient.
The hook-shaped peninsula is a rather accurate rendition of the peninsula that bounds the Gulf of Izmir. Not only is the peninsula correctly located east of the representation of Greece, but it is also accurately aligned with its point paralleling the coast in a counterclockwise direction.
The fact that this gulf is one of the more accurately defined features of the map reflects the importance of the ancient city of Smyrna, a city once located inside the gulf that existed as a prominent city port under both Greek and Roman rule. The gulf would have been an important feature to include as it was once the location of Smyrna, a prominent city port under both Greek and Roman rule. The overall design of the map negates this possibility. The Greeks maintained a Greco-centric view of the world so when they went about constructing their simple circular world maps, it was the customary practice to locate Greece in the geographical center of the world.
Reference the Hecataeus and Homer maps, Fig. Copies of the map were distributed throughout the ancient empire and continued to be in existence in medieval Europe where they were referenced when designing the mappae mundi, medieval maps of the world. Copies of the Roman original eventually disappeared, therefore, reconstructions like the one shown here base their design upon a combination of geographical information gleaned from ancient historians as well as the medieval mappae mundi derived from the Roman original.
The feature we will want to focus on, however, is the small laterally arcing waterway positioned in the middle of Africa. All other depicted rivers empty into seas or the outer ocean. Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman historian writes the following with regards to the Nile in the historical work, Natural History: This waterway extends across the continent to form a boundary between Africa to the north and Ethiopia to the south.
In eastern Africa this misconceived Upper Nile ceases its aboveground progress and supposedly empties into an underground river where it continues to flow until it rises one last time as the Lower Nile River, flowing unabated above ground and eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.
One such map is the Hereford Mappa Mundi Fig. Figure 12 - The Hereford Mappa Mundi left , perhaps the most renowned of the mappae mundi, alongside a stripped down reproduction. Also of note is the lateral mountain range paralleling the waterway to the north.
The map itself is a circular rendering similar to ancient Greek design, but employs the cartographic practice of orienting east toward its top.
The Map At The Bottom Of The World
European cartography does add its own unique stamp on the circular map design with elements reflecting a Medieval Europe that had transitioned into a Christian society.
This radical design decision countered the practice of Greco-centricity with the preferred adherence to a literal translation of Ezekiel 5: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. The faded and discolored appearance of the map belies its original beauty. The original detailing was certainly very stunning with the surrounding ocean and seas colored green, red coloring applied to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf and the numerous inland lakes and waterways scattered about the map are differentiated with a deep blue coloring.
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The Green Globe Fig. Of note is that its rendering of the lateral waterway maintains a tighter undulation and is a near arc that matches more closely the Hereford version. This is a very common portrayal of the feature that is carried by a few other notable mappae mundi: The 10th century Cottonian, 11th century Isidorean, 12th century Henry of Mainz and Liber Floridus, and the 13th century Ebstorf map just to name a few.
Ptolemy was a Greek mathematician, astronomer and geographer living under Roman rule in Egypt during the 2nd century A. In his treatise, The Geographia, Ptolemy defines the geography of the Roman Empire and is believed by many to have included a world map, one similar to the one included in the 15th century Ulm edition.
Note how the length of mountains range the full width of North Africa. That this is a common Roman design concept can be established with the second Roman map offered for our review, the Tabula Peutingeriana Fig. It was discovered in in a library in Worms, Germany and derives its name from Konrad Peutinger who eventually acquired the map in Figure 16a - Two representations of the Tabula Peutingeriana: A reconstruction that is stretched vertically top providing a better perspective on the layout of continents and an actual image bottom of the Figure 16b - An enlarged section of the Peutinger Table centered on the city of Rome illustrating the extensive detailing including mountains, waterways and a vast network of roads inscribed with distances between various cities and outposts.
Click on images to see full size views. Another significant aspect of the Peutinger Table is the deliberate distortion plied to the map.
The table constricts and flattens both the Mediterranean Sea and the continents and folds the Italian Peninsula in on its side so that it is pointing eastward toward a stubbed Greek Peninsula. The purpose of these and other geographical distortions are clear: The distortion of the Mediterranean Sea would have been of little concern since the table was not intended for naval navigation.
Equipped with numerous roads drawn throughout along with inscribed measurements revealing the distance of travel between key areas of the Roman Empire, the map was clearly intended for use by overland travelers.