We emphasize that the union of Catalonia and Aragon under a single sovereign, which occurred in 1137...was a confederation rather than an actual joining of two peoples since both parties retained their individual traditions, laws and customs. The Aragonese were dominated by a feudal noble class with agrarian and military interests, dedicating themselves to war against the Arabs and to settling and repopulating former Muslim territories taken during the Reconquest. The Catalans were dominated by a merchant class interested in expanding their influence along coastal areas.
The Catalans expanded along the coast, and their Aragonese allies were quite happy to have them do so since that expansion served as a balance to the power of Castile, expanding to the south at the expense of Muslim territories. Aragon-Catalonia had a fine fleet in the 1200s and did well financially. You thus had in Catalonia the development of a merchant middle class, which led over time to expansion in the Mediterranean into markets in the east and the development of the so-called "Island Route" or "Spice Route.
The Catalan Atlas
The growth of the Crown of Aragon went hand in hand with the development of Catalan map-making, surely one of the most interesting (and most colorful!) phenomena in the history of cartography. The Catalan Atlas is the most important Catalan map of the medieval period (drawn and written in 1375). It was produced by the Majorcan cartographic school, a term used by historians to refer to the predominantly Jewish cartographers, cosmographers and navigational instrument-makers that flourished in Majorca in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. The term includes those who worked in mainland Catalonia. The Catalan Atlas is attributed to one Cresques Abraham. It was commissioned by Charles V of France at a time when the reputation of the Catalan chartmakers was at its peak. The atlas that resulted, shown here, has been called the most complete picture of geographical knowledge as it existed in the later Middle Ages. It has been in the royal library of France (now the Bibliothèque nationale de France) since the time of King Charles V (1500-1558).
Shown above is part of the original. The Catalan Atlas originally consisted of six vellum leaves folded down the middle, painted in various colors. The leaves are now cut in half. Each half-leaf is mounted on one side of a wooden panel for display purposes. They are displayed side by side in the French National Library. Each map panel measures approximately 65 × 50 cm. (26 x 20 inches) The overall size is therefore 65 × 300 cm (about 10 feet). So, roughly, two feet high by 10 feet long. The section shown above is about two-thirds of the original. The missing panels contain text in the Catalan language (a neo-Latin language like Spanish and Italian and one of the official languages of modern Spain) on cosmography, astronomy, and astrology. These texts include illustrations and, in general, are a commentary on the state of the known world. The map is what is called a portolano map, from porto, the Italian word for 'port.' They were charts that focused on the main ports of call in the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and inland areas travelled by Mediterranean merchants and sailors of the day. The straight lines criss-crossing portolan charts represent the thirty-two directions (or headings) of the mariner's compass. They are called 'rhumb lines,' and are generated by observation and the compass. They are, essentially, point to point lines of bearing (though not to be confused with modern rhumb lines and meridians). This is similar to the compass rose displayed on later maps and charts. These maps did not take into account the curvature of the earth; as a result, they would not be helpful for navigating across the open ocean. They were most useful in identifying landmarks at close quarters in navigation in the Mediterranean, Black Sea, or Red Sea (painted red on the right side of the map!).
The illustrations, captions and other writing on this map section of the Catalan Atlas are extensive and interesting. They contain, for example, references to the Silk Road and the travels of Marco Polo; also, the persons depicted at the bottom include historical figures, even the Emperor of Mali seated on a gold mine! We also see traders along the trans-Saharan route (shown as a long gold swath running across north Africa). The map marks many cities, Christian cities with a cross, other cities with a dome. And the strangest thing of all: originally the Catalan Atlas was oriented with north at the bottom! It has a certain logic to it. If you are sitting on the island of Mallorca drawing a map of the Mediterranean world for Catalan sailors and travellers, you want the world spread out before you so you move up into it, ahead of you. Africa is across from you, the Middle and Far East are on your left, and Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean are on your right. Today, however, as in this display, the map is viewed Europe-side up.
the wind rose
A wind rose is a figure or diagram on a map or nautical chart that shows the orientation of the cardinal directions, the intermediate points, and the features of the winds from those directions. Many cultures, including the historical ones of the Mediterranean, gave (and still give) names to the winds, often based on specific geographic features (e.g. "towards the hills", "towards the sea"). Thus, tramontana in Italian is the wind from the north ("beyond the mountains). Various graphic devices such as color codes and length of spokes were often used to show typical intensity of the winds from a given direction. There are four cardinal directions: (moving clockwise) North, East, South and West (abbreviated as N, E, S, W). Most wind roses indicate those four and at least the four intermediate "ordinal" points; thus, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW. You can divide further into 16 and even 32 points, and many cultures will have names for all 32 winds from those directions. (Note that those further subdivisions are, indeed, indicated on the wind rose on the left, even though they are left unnamed. This wind rose is from a different Majorcan map, not the Catalan atlas.) A wind rose of eight points, however, is very common, and the claim is made that the Catalan Atlas was the first European map to show such a wind rose, roughly in the form that survives today (on the left side of the main map, above). The names of the winds may be very similar in related languages such as as Catalan, Spanish, Italian,etc., but there may be interesting variations; for example, the names from 1375 shown on the wind rose are in Catalan (recognizably similar to the modern Catalan names: Tramuntana N, Gregal NE, Llevant E, Xaloc SE, Migjorn S, Llebeig SW, ponent W, mestral NW. The interesting Arabic word, Xaloc, for SE, also exists in Italian as scirocco. As well, there are many local dialect variations of these names. At least some of the eight cardinal and ordinal names of the winds are in common use in everyday language in Italian; for example, everyone speaks of the tramontana and scirocco to mean "cold north wind" and "warm southern wind," respectively (even though, technically, scirocco means from the SE). Anyone who knows all eight, not to mention the 16 and 32 versions is probably a sailor. The names of the winds were also used for the directions, themselves; then, the Germanic invasions of southern Europe in the sixth century brought another vocabulary, producing the common one-letter abbreviations but retaining the names of the winds. Note that some of the names are upside down on this wind rose. Presumably that was to facilitate reading the name as you held the map section in your hand and rotated it to find your bearing.
From the head of the Mongol army, eager to devastate the perfidious nation of the Sarasins (...) good-willing support of the Christian faith (...) so that you, who are the rulers of the coasts on the other side of the sea, endeavor to deny a refuge for the Infidels, your enemies and ours, by having your subjects diligently patrol the seas.None of that came to pass. Indeed, the Mongol effect might have been temporary since Islam quickly regrouped in Egypt under the Mamluk warrior class that rapidly formed its own Caliphate and fought and defeated the Mogol invaders by 1300. The Mamluks were absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in the early 1500s, at which point the "capital" of Islam moved to Constantinople. I did say it was speculation.