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map showing mountain height and lengths of the principal rivers in the world

7 Of The Most Beautiful Maps In History


The art of terrestrial mapmaking features some of the most eloquent pictorial works ever created by humankind.

There is definitely something hypnotic about maps. Perhaps it is their ability to make meticulousness converge with metaphors, or observations with imagination. Maybe it is their paradoxical nature, which acquaints us with a given territory, yet at the same time condenses inconceivable mysteries (the Terra incognita). Or perhaps it is simply because they allow us to grasp that game-board where we are already submersed —or we would like to be submersed. In any case, the history of humankind and its world is inseparable from the long tradition of the art of cartography.

While the early history of landscape or the first pictorial representations of land dates back some 25,000 years (in the Czech Republic, near Pavlov), it wasn’t until 600 bC. That, strictly, the first map was created: the Imago Mundi, or the Babylonian Map of the World. Later on, the Greeks and other cultures would portray their respective geographical speculations––a task that would reach a turning point in the Roman Era with Ptolomeo’s mapamundi, and which would be a crucial reference until the Middle Ages.

Beginning in the 15th Century, cartography and its accuracy would evolve at an accelerated pace, while the following 400 years featured some of the most beautiful maps in history. By the 20th Century, new technologies, plus accumulated knowledge, would lead to maps with a level of detail that were inconceivable up until then. However, mapmaking is a field condemned to inaccuracy, a quality which enhances its poetic essence and which maybe, to a certain extent, accounts for the beauty that has characterized it throughout history.

1. Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula by Hendrik Hondius, 1630.

mapas 1.

2. Mappe Monde, by Jean Baptiste Nolin, 1755.

mapas 2.

3. Leo Belgicus by Hondius & Gerritsz, 1630.

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4. Nova orbis terrarum delineatio singulari ratione accommodata meridiano tabb by Philippus Eckebrecht, 1630.

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5. The c. 1900 Taride edition of Louis Bretez and Michel-Etienne Turgot’s monumental 1739 map of Paris.

mapas 5


6. Comparative Heights, of the Principal Mountains and Lengths of the Principal Rivers in the World by William Darton and W. R. Gardner, 1823.

mapas 6


7. Mississippi River flooding over time, by Harold N. Fisk, 1944.

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