The Roads of Ancient Rome Visualized in the Style of Modern Subway Maps

Sasha Trubetskoy, an undergrad at U. Chicago, has created a "subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD." Drawing on Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary, Trubetskoy's map combines well-known historic roads, like the Via Appia, with lesser-known ones (in somes cases given imagined names). If you want to get a sense of scale, it would take, Trubetskoy tells us, "two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzantium. If you had a horse, it would only take you a month."

You can view the map in a larger format here. And if you follow this link and send Trubetskoy a few bucks, he can email you a crisp PDF for printing. Find more focused, related maps by Trubetskoy right here:

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Note: This map first appeared on our site back in 2017.

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136 Maps Reveal Where Tourists & Locals Take Photos in Major Cities Across the Globe

How to tell the tourists in a city from the locals? Potentially reliable indicators include the language they speak, the terms they use, the way they dress, the way they walk, and whether they're standing in the middle of the sidewalk squinting at a map. But few factors draw the line between tourist and local more starkly than where they go and don't go: no matter the city, one will sooner or later hear talk of places locals know that tourists don't, places locals don't go because tourists do know about them, places tourists go when they want to act like locals, places locals go when they want to act like tourists, and so on.

In his project "Tourists and Locals," Eric Fischer has found one way of quantifying this great divide: where do the members of each group take the photos they upload to the internet? You can view the results in 136 different city maps or explore a whole world map, both of which use the same color coding: "The red bits indicate photos taken by tourists," says Brilliant Maps, "while the blue bits indicate photos taken by locals and the yellow bits might be either."




Using "MapBox and Twitter data from Gnip to create the maps," Fischer defined locals as "those who tweeted from the same location for at least a month" and tourists as "those who were considered local in another city but were tweeting in a different location."

Here, from the top of the post down, we have Fischer's maps of Paris, Tokyo, Dublin, and San Francisco, all cities with varying degrees of overlap between the realm of the local and that of the tourist. Parisian attractions like the Parc de Belleville and the Bassin de la Villette show a relatively healthy tourist-local balance, whereas outsiders dominate in places like La Défense with its highly photographable skyscrapers, and of course the Louvre (to say nothing of the red-saturated Versailles, not pictured in this segment of the map). Compare that with Tokyo, which of course has world-famous spots — the quaintly historic Asakusa, the sublimely urban Shibuya Crossing — but whose form doesn't encourage quite as strict a physical separation of tourist and local.

The path a tourist takes through Dublin might overlap a great deal with the one Leopold Bloom took on June 16, 1904, but less so with the paths an average Dubliner takes in the 2010s. The Irish capital also offers a host of must-sees apart from the Ulysses tour — the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College's Old Library, home of The Book of Kells— but visitors would do well to follow the example of Dublin's locals and get a bit more distance from the city center. They could do the same in San Francisco, a city of iconic tourist attractions on which, before the tech boom, its very survival seemed to depend. But do true travelers, as opposed to tourists, need this kind of data processing and information design to know their time would be better spent somewhere other than Fisherman's Wharf?

See 136 different city maps here.

via Brilliant Maps

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Download 91,000 Historic Maps from the Massive David Rumsey Map Collection

Three years ago, we highlighted one of the most comprehensive map collections in existence, the David Rumsey Map Collection, then newly moved to Stanford University. The Rumsey Collection, we wrote then, “contains a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cartographic images”—justifiable hyperbole, considering the amount of time it would take any one person to absorb the over 150,000 physical artifacts Rumsey has amassed in one place.

By 2016, Rumsey had made almost half the collection—over 67,000 images—freely available in a digital archive that has been growing since 1996. Each entry features high-resolution scans for specialists (you can download them for free) and more manageable image sizes for enthusiasts; a wealth of data about provenance and historical context; and digital, user-friendly tools that use crowd-sourcing to measure the accuracy of antiquated maps against GPS renderings.

A completist’s dream, the archive “includes rare 16th through 21st century maps of AmericaNorth AmericaSouth AmericaEurope, Asia, AfricaPacificArcticAntarctic, and the World.” Among the seemingly innumerable examples of cartographic ingenuity we find early data visualizations, utilitarian primers, photographic surveys, intricate topographies, abstract objets d’art, and historical cornerstones of European map-making like Abraham Ortellus’s 1570 map of “Flandria” at the top.

The Ortellus “Theatrum” holds “a unique position in the history of cartography,” notes the Rumsey Collection, as “’the world’s first regularly produced atlas.’” It was also the first example of a “Theatre of the World,” a style that would become ubiquitous in the following century, and it was “the first undertaking of its kind to reduce the best available maps to a uniform format."

To make this document even more compelling, it contains its own bibliography. Ortellus "mentioned the names of the authors of the original maps" he drew from “and added a great many names of other cartographers and geographers.” Not all of the 91,000 and counting maps in the Rumsey digital collection combine this degree of stylistic mastery, historical import, and scholarly rigor. But a survey of the Collection’s categories will produce few that disappoint in any one of these areas.

The “important and rare” 1806 map of the U.S. and West Indies by Charles Piquet; the Tolkien-like Vergleichendes Tableau der bedeutendsten Hoehen der Erde, from 1855, a “decorative chart… showing comparative tables of the greatest mountains and volcanoes of the world”; the almost-expressionist map of Cheltenham from 1899 by the Geological Survey of Great Britain and Ireland; the fancifully-illustrated star-shaped star chart made by Ignace Gaston Pardies in 1693; Mike Cressy’s 1988 “Literary Map of Latin America”…..

This briefest overview of the Collection’s highlights already feels exhaustive. No matter your level of interest in maps, from the casual to the lifelong obsessive, The David Rumsey collection will deliver multiple points of entry to maps you never knew existed, and with them, new ways of seeing cities, regions, nations, territories, continents, planets, and beyond. Enter the collection here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Strikingly Beautiful Maps & Charts That Fired the Imagination of Students in the 1880s

We all remember the world maps that hung on the walls of our classrooms, the ones at which we spent countless hours staring when we couldn't focus on the lesson at hand. Did we look at them and imagine fleeing school for one of the far-off lands they pictured — or indeed finding a way to escape planet Earth itself? Such time-passing fantasies unite schoolchildren of all eras, though some eras have provided their schoolchildren richer material to fire up their imaginations than others.

Take, for instance, the rich, vivid maps of Yaggy's Geographical Study, which depict not just the world but the cosmos, and which were first produced for classrooms in 1887. The eponymous Levi Walter Yaggy, says Boston Rare Maps, "seems to have viewed himself as an innovator and entrepreneur tapping into a transformational moment in American education."

An advertisement for Yaggy's Chicago-based Western Publishing House lays out the company's mission: "Instead of offering the public old things ‘made over,’ it has come to the help of teachers and schools with a series of appliances which in design, mechanism and manner of illustration, are new, elegant and practical."

It also points to “the enthusiasm which has been aroused in educational circles by this new departure" as "proof of the fact that teachers are tired of stereotyped and worn-out means of school-room illustration."

One can well imagine the enthusiasm aroused among schoolchildren of the late 19th century when the teacher brought out Yaggy's Geographical Study, a plywood box filled with colorful, large-format maps measuring roughly two by three feet that revealed a wealth of knowledge about the Earth and outer space.

The David Rumsey Map Collection has digitized and made available to download everything that came inside, including the cross-section of the geological strata of "pre-Adamite Earth"; the illustration of the civilizations of five climatic zones "Showing in a Graphic Manner the Climates, Peoples, Industries & Productions of The Earth"; the 3D relief map of the United States built into the back of the box; and the jewel in the crown of Yaggy's Geographical Study, the star chart.

The star chart, as National Geographic's Greg Miller describes it, "has five panels held in place by tiny metal latches. Each panel can be opened to reveal a more detailed diagram. One shows the phases of the moon, for example, while another includes a slider to illustrate how the position of the sun changes relative to Earth with the seasons," the whole thing "designed to highlight certain features when a bright light is placed behind it."

Despite displaying here and there what we now regard as scientific inaccuracies (Miller points to how the elliptical orbit of planets are shown as circles) and unfashionable social attitudes, Yaggy's Geographical Study also embodies the spirit of its time in a way that still fires up the imagination. The golden age of exploration had already entered its final chapter and space travel remained the stuff of science fiction (a genre that had only recently taken the form in which we know it today), but with maps like these on the wall, no daydreaming student of the 1880s could doubt that reality still offered much to discover.

via Flashbak

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Animated Maps Reveal the True Size of Countries (and Show How Traditional Maps Distort Our World)

The world maps we know all misrepresent the world itself: we've all heard it many times before, but how well do we understand the nature of that misrepresentation? "For many people, the Earth as they know it is heavily informed by the Mercator projection – a tool used for nautical navigation that eventually became the world’s most widely recognized map," writes Visual Capitalist's Nick Routley. But the Mercator projection dates to 1569, and "the vast majority of us aren’t using paper maps to chart our course across the ocean anymore, so critics of the Mercator projection argue that the continued use of this style of map gives users a warped sense of the true size of countries."

Some of the geographical misconceptions Gerardus Mercator inadvertently instilled in humanity to this day include exaggerations of the size of Europe and North America. "Visually speaking, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface" on a Mercator map, "when in reality they occupy a mere 5%."




Figures are one thing, but a fair few 21st century cartography enthusiasts have also used technology unavailable and indeed unimaginable in Mercator's day to show us in a more immediately legible way exactly how his projection distorts land masses. Recently, a climate data scientist named Neil Kaye has used the form of the animated GIF to show what happens when countries shrink to their actual size on a Mercator map, and when Mexico and Greenland trade places.

As soon as Mexico goes north and Greenland goes south, it becomes obvious that both are really of a similar size, though we might have assumed the latter to be much larger than the former. And in fact, Mercator projection makes all countries farther from the equator look larger in relation to all countries nearer to the equator. We've pointed out the impossibility of making a perfectly faithful two-dimensional world map before here before on Open Culture, an impossibility that hasn't stopped cartographers from trying to come up with more and more accurate projections. But even they can't substitute for an acute awareness of how even the most popular maps can be wrong, an awareness you can develop even more intensively by viewing the many other cartographic creations Kaye has posted to the "Map Porn" subreddit — another technological development Mercator surely couldn't have foreseen.

via Visual Capitalist

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Animations Visualize the Evolution of London and New York: From Their Creation to the Present Day

If you’ve ever lived in a metropolis like London or New York, you know the sometimes-disorienting feeling of experiencing several decades—or centuries—at once in the dizzying accretions of architecture, street, and park designs. Or, at least, if you’ve toured one of those cities with a longtime resident, you’ve heard them loudly complain about how everything has changed. Whether you study urban life as a historian or a city dweller, you know well that change is constant in the story of big cities.

The animations here illustrate the point on a grand scale, with a satellite’s-eye view of New York, above, from 1609 when the city was first built on Lenape land to its current configuration of five boroughs, dense thickets of high-rises, a massive, complex transportation system, and 8,600,000 residents. It ends with a quote from E.B. White that sums up the geography and vibrancy of Manhattan: “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races, and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.”




The New York video “animates the development of this city’s street grid and infrastructure systems,” writes its creator Myles Zhang at Here Grows New York City, “using geo-referenced road network data, historic maps, and geological surveys” to give us “cartographic snapshots” of every 20-30 years. Another project, the London Evolution Animation, uses similar techniques. But, of course, it reaches much further back in time, to over 2000 years ago when the Romans built the first road system across England and the port of Londinium.

Created in 2014, the visualization shows how the city evolved, “from its creation as a Roman city in 43AD to the crowded, chaotic megacity we see today.” As designers Flora Roumpani and Polly Hudson describe at The Guardian, the project drew from several sources, including the Museum of London Archaeology and the University of Cambridge’s engineering department. From these two institutions came “datasets from the Roman and Medieval periods as well as the 17th and early 18th centuries,” and “road network datasets from the late 18th century to today.”

Other archives offered information on the city’s historical buildings and monuments. Captions and a timeline provide a handy guide through its long history, as we watch more and more roads and buildings appear (and disappear after the Great Fire). These videos are useful references for students of urbanism, and they might give some perspective to the New Yorker or Londoner in your life who can’t stop talking about how much the city’s changed. Just imagine what these megacities could look like in another few hundred years.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Leonardo da Vinci Drew an Accurate Satellite Map of an Italian City (1502)

When I look at maps from centuries ago, I wonder how they could have been of any use. Not only were they filled with mythological monsters and mythological places, but the perspectives mostly served an aesthetic design rather than a practical one. Of course, accuracy was hard to come by without the many mapping tools we take for granted—some of them just in their infancy during the Renaissance, and many more that would have seemed like outlandish magic to nearly everyone in 15th century Europe.

Everyone, it sometimes seems, but Leonardo da Vinci, who anticipated and sometimes steered the direction of futuristic public works technology. None of his flying machines worked, and he could hardly have seen images taken from outer space. But he clearly saw the problem with contemporary maps. The necessity of fixing them led to a 1502 aerial image of Imola, Italy, drawn almost as accurately as if he had been peering at the city through a Google satellite camera.




“Leonardo,” says the narrator of the Vox video above, “needed to show Imola as an ichnographic map,” a term coined by ancient Roman engineer Vitruvius to describe ground plan-style cartography. No streets or buildings are obscured, as they are in the maps drawn from the oblique perspective of a hilltop or mountain. Leonardo undertook the project while employed as Cesare Borgia’s military engineer. “He was charged with helping Borgia become more aware of the town’s layout.” For this visual aid turned cartographic marvel, he drew from the same source that inspired the elegant Vitruvian Man.

While the visionary Roman builder could imagine a god's eye view, it took someone with Leonardo’s extraordinary perspicacity and skill to actually draw one, in a startlingly accurate way. Did he do it with grit and moxie? Did he astral project thousands of miles above the city? Was he in contact with ancient aliens? No, he used geometry, and a compass, the same means and instruments that allowed ancient scientists like Eratosthenes to calculate the circumference of the earth, to within 200 miles, over 2000 years ago.

Leonardo probably also used an instrument called a bussola, a device that measures degrees inside a circle—like the one that surrounds his city map. Painstakingly recording the angles of each turn and intersection in the town and measuring their distance from each other would have given him the data he needed to recreate the city as seen from above, using the bussola to maintain proper scale. Other methods would have been involved, all of them commonly available to surveyors, builders, city planners, and cartographers at the time. Leonardo trusted the math, even though he could never verify it, but like the best mapmakers, he also wanted to make something beautiful.

It may be difficult for historians to determine which inaccuracies are due to miscalculation and which to deliberate distortion for some artistic purpose. But license or mistakes aside, Leonardo’s map remains an astonishing feat, marking a seismic shift from the geography of “myth and perception” to one of “information, drawn plainly.” There’s no telling if the archetypal Renaissance man would have liked where this path led, but if he lived in the 21st century, he'd already have his mind trained on ideas that anticipate technology hundreds of years in our future.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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