Dr. Cyrus Alai

Dr. Cyrus Alai, the distinguished Iranian scholar and a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Iranica, has recently donated his unique collection of maps of Persia to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

Cyrus Alai was born in Iran and received his PhD degree from ‘Technische Universität, Berlin-Charlottenburg’. He completed the ‘Executive Controls Program’ – a management course – at the University of Syracuse, USA, and lectured at the University of Teheran for eight years.

Dr. Alai founded a group of engineering companies in Iran, which he directed for twenty years. He settled later in England, working as a consulting engineer and studying history of cartography in his free time. He served nine years as the honorary treasurer of the International Map Collector’s Society (IMCoS), and wrote numerous articles and gave many lectures on ‘the cartography of Persia’ and ‘the traditional cartography of classical Islamic societies’. His articles (in English and Persian) appeared in several prestigious cartographic and cultural periodicals, such as:  Map Collector, IMCoS Journal, Mercator’s World, Portolan, Journal of the Iran Society, Iranshenasi, Rahavard, Iran-name, etc. The entry ‘Geography iv, Cartography of Persia’ in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, has been written by him.

He also collected during three decades some three hundred old maps of Persia, being perhaps the largest personal collection of such maps. Dr. Alai recognized that Persia has been mapped extensively for centuries but the absence of a good map-history and carto-bibliography has often deterred scholars from making use of such maps. Therefore, he embarked on a lengthy (about 20 years) investigation into the old maps of Persia and visited major map collections and libraries in many countries. As a result, he produced a monumental work in two volumes: General Maps of Persia, 1477-1925 appeared in 2005, reprinted in 2010, and Special Maps of Persia in 2010, both published by BRILL in Leiden.

Recently he donated his map collection of Persia to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, to be made available to all researchers of Iranian studies worldwide.