The Largest Early Map of the World Gets Assembled for the First Time: See the Huge, Detailed & Fantastical World Map from 1587

We in the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry can call up detailed maps of almost any place on Earth with lit­tle more effort than typ­ing its name. Most of us can dim­ly recall a time when it was­n’t quite so easy, but imag­ine try­ing to sat­is­fy your geo­graph­i­cal curios­i­ty in not just decades but cen­turies past. For the 16th-cen­tu­ry Milanese gen­tle­man schol­ar Urbano Monte, fig­ur­ing out what the whole world looked like turned into an enor­mous project, in terms of both effort and sheer size. In 1587, he cre­at­ed his “plani­sphere” map as a 60-page man­u­script, and only now have researchers assem­bled it into a sin­gle piece, ten feet square, the largest known ear­ly map of the world. View it above, or in a larg­er for­mat here.

“Monte appears to have been quite geo-savvy for his day,” writes Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Greg Miller, not­ing that “he includ­ed recent dis­cov­er­ies of his time, such as the islands of Tier­ra del Fuego at the tip of South Amer­i­ca, first sight­ed by the Por­tuguese explor­er Fer­di­nand Mag­el­lan in 1520,” as well as an uncom­mon­ly detailed Japan based on infor­ma­tion gath­ered from a vis­it with the first offi­cial Japan­ese del­e­ga­tion to Europe in 1585.

And in accor­dance with the map­mak­ing style of the time, he got more fan­ci­ful in the less-under­stood spaces: “Ani­mals roam the land, and his oceans teem with ships and mon­sters. King Philip II of Spain rides what looks like a float­ing throne off the coast of South Amer­i­ca, a nod to Span­ish promi­nence on the high seas.”


“Mon­te’s map reminds us of why his­tor­i­cal maps are so impor­tant as pri­ma­ry resources,” says Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty’s David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, which holds one of only three extant ver­sions of the map and which con­duct­ed the dig­i­tal project of scan­ning each of its pages and assem­bling them into a whole. Not only does its then-unusu­al (but now long stan­dard in avi­a­tion) north polar azimuthal pro­jec­tion show Mon­te’s use of “the advanced sci­en­tif­ic ideas of his time,” but the “the artistry in draw­ing and dec­o­rat­ing the map embod­ies design at the high­est lev­el; and the view of the world then gives us a deep his­tor­i­cal resource with the list­ing of places, the shape of spaces, and the com­men­tary inter­wo­ven into the map.”

You can see/download Mon­te’s plani­sphere in detail at the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, both as a col­lec­tion of indi­vid­ual pages and as a ful­ly assem­bled world map. There you can also read, in PDF form, car­to­graph­ic his­to­ri­an Dr. Kather­ine Park­er’s “A Mind at Work: Urbano Mon­te’s 60-Sheet Man­u­script World Map.” And to bring this mar­vel of 16th-cen­tu­ry car­tog­ra­phy around to a con­nec­tion with a mar­vel of 21st-cen­tu­ry car­tog­ra­phy, they’ve also tak­en Mon­te’s plani­sphere and made it into a three-dimen­sion­al mod­el in Google Earth, a map­ping tool that Monte could scarce­ly have imag­ined — even though, as a close look at his work reveals, he cer­tain­ly did­n’t lack imag­i­na­tion.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, the “Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever,” Now Free Online

The “True Size” Maps Shows You the Real Size of Every Coun­try (and Will Change Your Men­tal Pic­ture of the World)

Japan­ese Design­ers May Have Cre­at­ed the Most Accu­rate Map of Our World: See the Autha­Graph

Watch the His­to­ry of the World Unfold on an Ani­mat­ed Map: From 200,000 BCE to Today

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities 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.

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