News Legends

Legendary landscapes: Taprobane, the island at the edge of the world

Taprobane, the island at the edge of the world

“Asiae tabula XII” Sebastian Munster, Claudius Ptolemy, Willibald Pirckheimer (1540). From David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

In the Indian Ocean

Taprobane, the ancient name of the island of Ceylon.
Its origin can be traced back to tamraparni, “copper-coloured leaf” in Sanskrit, or to tambapanni, “red hands” in Sinhalese, thus evoking the shape of the island or its ochre-coloured land shaped by the ancient inhabitants.

The legend

It is said that the Egyptians reached it on boats made of woven papyrus. The Greeks considered it to be at the edge of the world, the “land of Antichthons”, rich in gold and pearls, even more so than India.
All enraptured by its charm Alexander the Great, Annio Plocamo, the traveller Ludovico de Varthema and wealthy Venetians arrived there in search of wealth and inspiration.

In the voyage of Suleiman and in the stories of Sinbad the sailor, it is said that after the fall, Adam and Eve took refuge on the island, thus making it mythical and elevating to Garden of Eden. Today the inhabitants show an ancient trace of footsteps imprinted on the ground and miraculously preserved. They say it belongs to Adam …

> Taprobane is here

“Atlante dei paesi sognati” (Atlas of dreamed countries) by Dominique Lanni. Pictures by Karin Doering-Froger (Bompiani/Rizzoli Libri, 2016)