Map of Albino de Canepa, 1489. Antillia, with its Seven Cities, is on the right; the smaller island of Roillo is on the left.

Isle of the Seven Cities

The story originates from an old Iberian legend, set during the Muslim conquest of Spain in 714, “when all of Hispania was taken by the infidels from Africa.” Seeking to flee from the Muslim conquerors, seven Christian bishops and their followers took a ship and sailed out into the Atlantic.  After a long voyage, they landed on an island. They then separated and built seven different settlements, which became the Seven Cities. 

Antillia is first known to appear on maps about 1424, in the Pizzigano map, and then in the Beccario map of 1435. From then on it appeared on most nautical charts of the 15th century. Rumors that gold could be found in its sands probably gave rise to the Spanish legend of the Seven Cities of Gold located somewhere in America. As the Atlantic became more routinely sailed and accurately mapped, Antillia became smaller and smaller and pushed farther west. 

The 1508 map of Johannes Ruysch reads, “The island Antilia was once found by the Portuguese, but now when it is searched cannot be found.” Pedro de Medina in 1548 writes that it is situated on the latitude of the Straits of Gilbraltar, but disappears when it is approached. Soon it disappeared on maps all together. It’s name was given to the Spanish Antilles. 

Sept Cities. Ortelius map, 1570

Some speculate that Antillia was a poorly translated reference to Atlantis, others think it represented the American landmass and is evidence of pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic discovery. As a legend, it shares features with the Irish immrama, the sea voyaging tales of 6th-century Irish monks who settled on islands in the Atlantic to live lives of solitude and prayer. 

Some speculate that Antillia was a poorly translated reference to Atlantis, others think it represented the American landmass and is evidence of pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic discovery. As a legend, it shares features with the Irish immrama, the sea voyaging tales of 6th-century Irish monks who settled on islands in the Atlantic to live lives of solitude and prayer.