Saturday, July 25, 2009

Map maker's Archive of Urban Dreams

(The city of Saintes, France drawing by Joris Hoefnagel, 1560, in the centre of the city marked I. one can see the Saintes Cathedral or the Cath├ędrale Saint-Pierre de Saintes before going in state of ruins later)
Before Rene Descartes' Cartesian co-ordinate system secularised space along the three axes of sterile certainty, the task of mapping cities in the Early Modern Era was encouraging city maps being conceptualised as collages of spatial experiences, bird’s eye views, mental maps, landuses and also sometimes a calendar of day today/ seasonal events.

(map of densely packed Cairo, admitted to Matteo Pagano, 1549 showing the agrarian canal irrigation network from the Nile, the Pyramids and the Sphinx to the right and if one zooms into the far left just where the river forms a delta island one can even see the Nile crocodiles)
The foreground usually had the citizens/nobles/patrons of the map looking towards the city. The surrounding context of the river, sea, fort wall and the ports was drawn with intricate details not only to communicate but also assert identity.

(map of Bordeaux by Antoine du Pinet, 1564)
For people who derive pleasure in going through detailed old city maps, I found an online archive of mostly European cities (though you may find Goa, Istanbul, Cairo and other exceptions) published between 1572 and 1617 in volumes titled Civitates orbis terrarum edited and engraved by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg. The Archive allows searching a map by geography, dates and even by map makers. The maps are available for download in high resolution format (the ones I have used are low resolution preview quality), which is really good and are mostly copyrighted to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem & The Jewish National & University Library. A link above on the same page takes you to the Historic cities: Maps and Documents main page but the Braun and Hogenberg branch is the most elaborate one.

(The map of Venice admitted to Bolognino Zaltieri, 1565 is one of my favourite, showing details of water and land circulation network. I am not sure, but I believe the map also through the roof colours demarcates residential and public buildings)
The Venetian Canal system, the Pyramids of Egypt, the settlement along the Nile, the agrarian plots, the fort walls, streets, naval ships, and every house in the city drawn in axonometric grandeur to enable an observer a glimpse of cities in their nebular stage of development.

(map of Rome admitted to Pirro Ligorio, 1552 and 1570, showing the public buildings and the fort walls)

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