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A Vast, 430-Year-Old World Map (atlasobscura.com)
195 points by bcaulfield on Jan 9, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

I love old maps like this. We have a government-funded website [1] which contains historical maps back to the beginning of the 18th century and which can be overlayed on top of current maps. Some of them are beautifully drawn, with tiny castles etc. And they are likely the results of years and years of fairly manual labor and it's striking how accurate they are. It's nice to see our street already existed back then, and some houses are still in the exact same place and some even already existed then (though there were only about 5, vs 50 now). And the church was already there of course. Many of the names of streets/forests/areas haven't changed much phonetically but mainly spelling-wise. And the old names give an insight into why villages were named the way they were.

[1] geopunt.be

For interested people, there are also old maps of Switzerland available as "Journey through time" on the government website [1] They are ranging from 1844 to 2013. It's based on Dufour and Siegfried maps, which are presented there: [2, 3]. Time can be changed by clicking on the year number in red.

[1] https://map.geo.admin.ch/?layers=ch.swisstopo.zeitreihen&lay...

[2] https://www.swisstopo.admin.ch/en/knowledge-facts/maps-and-m...

[3] https://www.swisstopo.admin.ch/en/knowledge-facts/maps-and-m...

Yes, that is so fascinating. In my little town - somewhat further up north in Europe - the oldest known map is from somewhere in sixteen hundreds. Except for the church, there isn't a single house left from that time today, but you could navigate blind, relying on the old map alone. Tiny details of topography have survived the centuries: One house protruding half a meter further into the street than its neighbor, the street itself bending and narrowing and widening just so - everything is faithfully preserved, often over several iterations of build-fire/teardown-rebuild. The layout is clearly medieval, so lots undoubtedly go back much further than four hundred years.

interesting. Link to the actual zoomable map:


David Rumsey's site is one of those wonderful gems of the Internet. How wonderful that all these great old maps can be available to all of us on a site like this!

And as prints, too! I'm thinking of ordering a big print of this, maybe not the 60", but 36" would look pretty good on one of my walls I think!

Nice! There is a hole/frame right above Spain, I wonder what it was supposed to be used for.

I asked on reddit but ended up finding the answer on my own.

" The note box has been cut out, indicating perhaps an intended revision that did not occur."

per https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~3...

so it's anyone's guess really

I suspect the frames were reserved for future patron portraits

Interesting that the name "America" is only used for (a part of) Brazil. This appears to support the consensus that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, who first explored South America.

Shame. As a Welshman, I quite like this version: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Amerike

I was always taught in school that it was Amerigo. I've never even heard of Amerike until now.

There's a wonderful collection of US maps including historical, geologic, thematic and minute/degree over at the USGS Store[1]. There also really cheap to order/ship. I bought six maps of the Louisiana area (including one that was ~50 inches wide!) for a total of about 25 USD.

[1] https://store.usgs.gov/maps

Beautiful – thank you for sharing this!

500 year old Piri Resi map also have similar drawings.


I've always found it interesting that the Ottomans financed Piri Reis, who created one of the greatest surviving maps of that era, but the Ottomans were such minor players on the truly global front. I'm not aware of any attempts by them to colonize the 'new world'. Maybe after Piri reported in they felt it was not worth their time? Or they likely had larger domestic problems to deal with..

the wikipedia page for early world maps is worth a look, it shows how they improved over the years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_world_maps

I was struck by how much more accurate the linked one is than the c1300 mappa mundi, which lives in my home town.

You can by this as a print:

60 inch print is $210 14 inch print is $40


An old map over the nordic countries from 1539 is also quite accurate, and have some interesting creatures.




If you enjoy old maps and fantastic creatures, you might like Eco's "Legendary Lands" book[0], which is basically an anthology of stories and visions of the world made up in the past.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Book-Legendary-Lands-Umberto-Eco/dp/0...

I find old maps fascinating and beautiful.

One (superficial) thing that immediately jumps out at me is how similar that first image is to the weird 'flat-earth' maps produced by conspiracy-theorists and/or trolls today.

Of course the story shows us that this is merely the projection used by the mapmaker, not that they thought the earth was flat.

Around the middle of the West African coast, we have >Capo de tre ponte

Presumably Cape Three Points (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Three_Points).

Fascinating that this landmark was known even then.

Hanno the Navigator [1] led and recorded the Carthaginian exploration of the Western coast of Africa in the 5th or 6th century BC.

By the way deliberate Carthaginian accounts of sea monsters is a source of the myths discouraging sailing in the Atlantic.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanno_the_Navigator

Interestingly, the map has Brasil, a mythical island off the coast of Ireland: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brasil_(mythical_island)

It's interesting how land mass between black sea and baltic sea is greatly underestimated while Finnish gulf size is greatly overestimated.

I guess somebody couldn't wrap their mind around having so much land.

Or more likely there simply wasn't sufficient data on distances or the region was not considered important enough.

Whan you think of it, mapping is an art of representing regions not important enough. To highlight important places, graphs do much better job.

For all old maps fascinados: http://mapire.eu/en/ Well done site with great viewing options!

I'm always surprised at the awful artistic skills of maps during this period. If you look at the details, you can see how wobbly and uneven the simplest of lines and curves are. It seems odd because on the very large scale it would appear as if some sort of compass and other devises were used, but simple lines consist of overlapping strokes, erratic and handwritting that refuses to be consistently centered, and child-like scribbles for trees. For a 20 year effort, it seems careless and lacking in even rudimentary art skills. But this seems tn be every map from the period, not just this one.

Maybe because they had to get more ink between each stroke ? No fountain pen yet (appeared during the 17th in Europe)

Then why not center the letters in each box, rather than write them carelessly? Even if the lines were of uneven width, they're still not straight lines when they should be straight, wobbly when they should be elliptical.

This is not an uncommon reaction to medieval art in general, not just on maps. When I went to school we were taught it was due to "dark ages" of lost skills, but it seems modern history is giving it kinder treatment as "different priorities". Some discussion here:


Perhaps the map makers had different esthetic priorities than you have?

Beautiful map. Reminds me of the maps in the LOTR books.

I would seriously love if they took the scan and sold prints (maybe even a special full-size one) to help their funding.

Well it looks like it's available to order: https://davidrumsey.reprintmint.com/002-default.html?varific....

I would be very curious to see it distorted into a more familiar projection or wrapped onto a globe.

Love how it got Frisa correctly down as a bunch of man made hills sticking out of the water.

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