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What is cartography?

The history and evolution of cartography

The production of maps is one of the oldest forms of graphic representation used by humanity, being indicated by historians to develop even before writing.

This type of representation was part of the history of innumerable ancient peoples, with the Arabs, Babylonians, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese and Indians being the main producers of maps. It has also been transformed enormously over the centuries and has been adapting to new technologies and knowledge.

cartography in antiquity

The ancient people of Babylon, located in the modern Middle East, were responsible for creating the first type of map, carved on clay tablets.

Almost all the maps of the time were graphic representations of the structures of the cities of the region, but the Babylonians were also responsible for creating the world map considered the oldest in the world.

Map of the world represented by the people of ancient Babylon in 600 BC. c.

Centuries later, the society of Ancient Greece , with the emergence of the notion of space and the advancement in the knowledge of astronomy, created the first paper map of the world, in 200 BC. c.

The world maps created in this period were mainly used for navigation and were the result of the observation of the explorers of the time, as well as new mathematical knowledge.

At this time great cartographers were known, such as Anaximander, the first Greek to draw the world map, Hecate, Herodotus and Erastotenes.

Early Greek maps showed Greece at the center of the world, surrounded by an ocean. Later, Erastothenes also introduced a new world map, this time dividing the earth into the Asian and European continents.

The cartographer Claudius Ptolemy , who lived in the region of Ancient Egypt, created the first map of the world with meridian parallels of latitude and longitude to more accurately represent areas of the Earth.

World map designed by the Greek Claudius Ptolemy in 87 BC. c.

Cartography in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the church was politically dominant and had total control over the knowledge that reached society. Therefore, he was also in charge of making all the graphic representations.

It was during this period that the OT map became known , where the O represented the ocean and the T divided the world into the Rural Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Red Sea.

In the representation made by the church, the city of Jerusalem was in the center of the world, to show the importance of the church and the holy place for the people. This conception of the world lasted throughout the Middle Ages, in the region of Europe.

OT world map, represented by the Church in the Middle Ages.

However, some areas were not influenced by the power of the church, such as the Middle East and Asia. So they continued to create maps from their previous inspirations, like the Ptolemy map. The Arab Al Idrisi, for example, created one of the most complete terrestrial maps of the time.

Map made by the Arab Al Idrisi, in 1154 AD

Another area that also produced numerous maps was Asia, mainly China. One of the best known was the map made by the Chinese Ming Hun Yi Tu, in 1389 AD. It became famous for beginning to represent the places discovered in the great explorations of the time.

World map made by the Chinese Ming Hun Yi Tu in 1389 AD

Cartography in the Modern Age

This part of history was one of the most important for the development of cartography. During this period, the church’s influence in politics began to wane, and great navigations and territorial conquests spread across Europe.

Due to these great territorial explorations, the maps began to appear in a more complete and detailed way, with new locations and proportions, also being the main guide for new navigations.

One of the best known maps was the world map created by the Belgian Albers Mercator in 1569. It was important for the first use of the cylindrical projection of the earth, which is still used in cartography today.

Map of the world with projections created by Albes Mercator.

As the territory mapped expanded, mapping techniques continued to grow in accuracy.

Cartography in the contemporary world

The biggest driver responsible for the evolution of cartography was technological advancement. New tools such as the compass, the telescope, and printing machines allowed cartographers to make new spatial projections and print maps in different ways.

Starting in the 20th century, the use of airplanes to take pictures of spaces was the best means of creating new maps. From then on, the use of the satellite became the main means to show the locations in detail, allowing greater precision in the representations of the spaces.

In the 1960s, for example, the GIS (Geographic Information System) was created , a system in charge of capturing, storing and managing images of important geographic areas for the design and improvement of cartographic maps.

The three types of map projection

Map projection is the technique used to represent the earth on a plane. It is important to know that every cartographic projection brings with it some type of distortion, whether in angle, shape or even in distance.

This is because the earth has a cylindrical shape, and when going flat, any map projection technique needs to distort some proportion. The three types of map projections are:

1. Cylindrical projection

It is the type of projection that makes the map rectangular, where all meridians are straight and vertical and all parallels are straight and horizontal, forming right angles at any position on the map.

Cylindrical cartographic projection.

2. Conical projection

It is the projection used to more faithfully represent the mid-latitudes. This type can project both hemispheres at the same time. In this case, the meridians open in an incomplete radial system and the parallels form semicircles;

Conical cartographic projection.

3. Plane projection (azimuth)

The main point of this projection is in the high latitudes, that is, in the polar areas. On a planar projection map, the meridians spread out to form a complete radial system and the parallels form concentric circles;

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