Antique Maps by Niccolo da Poggibonsi

Niccolò da Poggibonsi, also known as Nicolaus de Podiobonito, was a 14th-century Franciscan friar renowned for his pilgrimage to the Holy Land between 1345 and 1350. His experiences during this journey were documented in his work, Libro d'oltramare, written in Italian.

Departing from Poggibonsi in Tuscany with seven companions, Niccolò traveled to Venice and sailed to Cyprus, where he served King Hugh IV. He then journeyed to Jaffa, visited various holy sites in Jerusalem, spending four months at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and explored other locations in Palestine. While he had intended to continue to "Babylonia" and "Chaldaea" (likely Baghdad), he did not make it that far.

From Beirut, Niccolò traveled to Egypt, visiting Alexandria, Cairo, and the Sinai sites mentioned in the Old Testament, including Saint Catherine's Monastery. He proceeded to Gaza, then returned to the Nile delta, eventually sailing back to Cyprus from Damietta.

His journey continued as he boarded a ship to Italy, taking an adventurous route along the Anatolian coast of the Ottoman Empire. He encountered some difficulties during his trip, including being captured by brigands near Poreč on the Adriatic, though he managed to escape. He safely arrived in Venice in late 1349 and was detained in Ferrara until the spring of 1350, when he finally returned to Poggibonsi after five years of wandering.

Niccolò's Libro d'oltramare provided richly detailed accounts of his travels, describing the sights, distances, tolls, and indulgences associated with various shrines. His descriptions of buildings and cities, especially Jerusalem, were unusually thorough, reflecting his four-month residence there. His pilgrimage was notably extensive for the time, partly driven by his desire to visit less-frequented sites in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, as well as financial difficulties he faced during the journey.

During his travels, Niccolò mentioned the destruction of the house of the Virgin Mary in Nazareth, possibly by the Mamelukes after 1289, and the alleged Mongol conquest of Jerusalem in 1300, noting the removal of a gate (the "Golden Gate") from the Temple of Jerusalem (now the Dome of the Rock) and its transfer to Damascus by the Mongols.

The Libro d'oltramare was translated into German around 1467 by Gabriel Muffel of Nuremberg, who may have been operating from Passau. An illuminated manuscript (Egerton 1900) of the German translation, dated 1467, purportedly described Muffel's visit to the Holy Land in 1465. The early manuscripts of Niccolò's work were unillustrated, but Egerton 1900 contained 147 miniatures. The Italian translation of the Libro d'oltramare was first published anonymously in Bologna in 1500, titled Viazo da Venesia al Sancto Iherusalem.

Unfortunately, little is known about the rest of Niccolò da Poggibonsi's life beyond his extraordinary pilgrimage and literary contributions.

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