This paper focuses on how Fra Mauro used accounts of travels to Asia and sailing in the Indian Ocean and represented them in his mappa mundi. The starting point of the analysis will be the account of Giovanni Battista Ramusio who was the first to recognize the influence of Marco Polo’s Milione on the cosmographic writing of Fra Mauro. The research also includes a study of the presence in the mappa mundi, beside the Milione, of Book IV of the De varietate fortunae, where Poggio Bracciolini recounts the long journey of Niccolò de’ Conti in Asia, as well as the first documentation of the Portuguese projects to circumnavigate Africa, linking the Mediterranean Sea basin with the Indian Ocean.
By tracing Fra Mauro’s sources, the paper will reveal how the mappa mundi unpacks three principal social and cultural processes that distinguish the history of fifteenth-century Venice: the foundation of a global economy in which Venice served as one of the capitals and leading protagonists; the development of long-distance information networks; and, finally, an expansion—both physically and epistemologically—into the spaces and seas that earlier were not believed to be accessible to man. These are processes in which Venice played a determining role. The city of canals was a gravitational center for commercial networks and worldwide communication networks; it was a place from which not only goods, but also ideas, knowledge and information arrived from far-flung places in the Orient, Northern Europe, and the West, flowing together only to be sent back again in a centrifugal information flow of enormous reach.