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Imperii Orientalis et Circumjacentium Regionum by Guillaume Delisle (1742) Banduri, Covens et Mortier and Lisle. Imperii Orientalis et Circumjacentium Regionum.1742.jpg
Imperii Orientalis et Circumjacentium Regionum by Guillaume Delisle (1742)

An atlas is a collection of maps; it is typically a bundle of maps of Earth or a region of Earth.


Atlases have traditionally been bound into book form, but today many atlases are in multimedia formats. In addition to presenting geographic features and political boundaries, many atlases often feature geopolitical, social, religious and economic statistics. They also have information about the map and places in it.


Frontispiece of the 1595 atlas of Mercator Mercator - Atlas - 1595.png
Frontispiece of the 1595 atlas of Mercator

The use of the word "atlas" in a geographical context dates from 1595 when the German-Flemish geographer Gerardus Mercator published Atlas Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura. (Atlas or cosmographical meditations upon the creation of the universe, and the universe as created.) This title provides Mercator's definition of the word as a description of the creation and form of the whole universe, not simply as a collection of maps. The volume that was published posthumously one year after his death is a wide-ranging text but, as the editions evolved, it became simply a collection of maps and it is in that sense that the word was used from the middle of the seventeenth century. The neologism coined by Mercator was a mark of his respect for the Titan, Atlas, the "King of Mauretania", whom he considered to be the first great geographer. [1]

History of atlases

The first work that contained systematically arranged maps of uniform size representing the first modern atlas was prepared by Italian cartographer Pietro Coppo in early 16th century, however it wasn't published at the time so is conventionally not considered the first atlas. Rather, this title is awarded to the collection of maps Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by the Brabantian cartographer Abraham Ortelius printed in 1570.

Types of atlases

A travel atlas is made for easy use during travel, and often has spiral bindings so it may be folded flat (for example Geographers' A-Z Map Company famous A–Z atlases). It has maps at a large zoom so the maps can be reviewed easily. A travel atlas may also be referred to as a road map. [2]

A desk atlas is made similar to a reference book. It may be in hardback or paperback form.

There are atlases of the other planets (and their satellites) in the Solar System. [3]

Atlases of anatomy exist, mapping out organs of the human body or other organisms. [4]

Selected atlases

Some cartographically or commercially important atlases include the following:

17th century and earlier
18th century
19th century
20th century
21st century

See also

Related Research Articles

Gerardus Mercator Dutch cartographer, philosopher and mathematician

Gerardus Mercator was a 16th-century geographer, cosmographer and cartographer from the County of Flanders. He is most renowned for creating the 1569 world map based on a new projection which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines—an innovation that is still employed in nautical charts.

Don (river) Russian river

The Don is one of the major Eurasian rivers of Russia and the fifth-longest river in Europe and played an important role for traders from the Byzantine Empire. The Don basin is between the Dnieper basin to the west, the Volga basin to the east, and the Oka basin to the north. Native to the Don river were Slavic nomads.

Abraham Ortelius Flemish cartographer

Abraham Ortelius was a Brabantian cartographer and geographer, conventionally recognized as the creator of the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Ortelius is often considered one of the founders of the Netherlandish school of cartography and one of the most notable figures of the school in its golden age. The publication of his atlas in 1570 is often considered as the official beginning of the Golden Age of Netherlandish cartography. He is also believed to be the first person to imagine that the continents were joined before drifting to their present positions.

<i>Theatrum Orbis Terrarum</i> 1570 atlas by Abraham Ortelius

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is considered to be the first true modern atlas. Written by Abraham Ortelius, strongly encouraged by Gillis Hooftman and originally printed on 20 May 1570 in Antwerp, it consisted of a collection of uniform map sheets and supporting text bound to form a book for which copper printing plates were specifically engraved. The Ortelius atlas is sometimes referred to as the summary of sixteenth-century cartography. The publication of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) is often considered as the official beginning of the Golden Age of Netherlandish cartography.

Jan Janssonius Dutch cartographer and publisher

Johannes Janssonius was a Dutch cartographer and publisher who lived and worked in Amsterdam in the 17th century.

Willem Blaeu Dutch cartographer, atlas maker and publisher (1571-1638)

Willem Janszoon Blaeu, also abbreviated to Willem Jansz. Blaeu, was a Dutch cartographer, atlas maker and publisher. Along with his son Johannes Blaeu, Willem is considered one of the notable figures of the Netherlandish/Dutch school of cartography in its golden age.

Jodocus Hondius Flemish/Dutch artist, cartographer, engraver

Jodocus Hondius was a Flemish engraver and cartographer. He is sometimes called Jodocus Hondius the Elder to distinguish him from his son Jodocus Hondius II. Hondius is best known for his early maps of the New World and Europe, for re-establishing the reputation of the work of Gerard Mercator, and for his portraits of Francis Drake. One of the notable figures in the Golden Age of Dutch/Netherlandish cartography, he helped establish Amsterdam as the center of cartography in Europe in the 17th century.

<i>Terra incognita</i> Unknown land, area not mapped by cartographers

Terra incognita or terra ignota is a term used in cartography for regions that have not been mapped or documented. The expression is believed to be first seen in Ptolemy's Geography c. 150. The term was reintroduced in the 15th century from the rediscovery of Ptolemy's work during the Age of Discovery. The equivalent on French maps would be terres inconnues, and some English maps may show Parts Unknown.

Gerard de Jode cartographer, engraver, publisher

Gerard de Jode (1509–1591) was a Netherlandish cartographer, engraver and publisher who lived and worked in Antwerp during the 16th century. He was born in Nijmegen and died in Antwerp. In 1547 he was admitted to the Guild of St. Luke, and began his work as a publisher/printseller. He often printed the works of other cartographers including Gastaldi's map of the world in 1555, Jacob van Deventer's map of Brabant in 1558, Ortelius' eight sheet map of the world in 1564, and maps by Bartholomeus Musinus and Fernando Alvares Seco.

<i>Atlas Maior</i> atlas by Joan Blaeu, published from 1662

The Atlas Maior is the final version of Joan Blaeu's atlas, published in Amsterdam between 1662 and 1672, in Latin, French, Dutch, German and Spanish, containing 594 maps and around 3,000 pages of text. It was the largest and most expensive book published in the seventeenth century. Earlier, much smaller versions, titled Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive, Atlas Novus, were published from 1634 onwards. Like Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570), the Atlas Maior is widely considered a masterpiece of the Golden Age of Dutch/Netherlandish cartography.

Joan Blaeu Dutch cartographer (1596-1673)

Joan Blaeu was a Dutch cartographer born in Alkmaar, the son of cartographer Willem Blaeu.

Historical atlas

A historical atlas is an atlas that includes historical maps and charts depicting the evolving geopolitical landscape. They are helpful in understanding historical context, the scope and scale of historical events and historical subjects, and macro-history. Some historical atlases try to present the entire history of the world, such as the Historical Atlas of the World, while others are more specialised, for only one time period or location, such as the Historical Atlas of the American West or The Historical Atlas of China. They may also include historical photographs and explanatory text or essays.

Georg Braun German cleric, canon, dean and topographer

Georg Braun was a topo-geographer. From 1572 to 1617 he edited the Civitates orbis terrarum, which contains 546 prospects, bird's-eye views and maps of cities from all around the world. He was the principal editor of the work, he acquired the tables, hired the artists, and wrote the texts. He died as an octogenarian in 1622, as the only survivor of the original team to witness the publication of volume VI in 1617.

<i>Harmonia Macrocosmica</i> book by Andreas Cellarius

The Harmonia Macrocosmica is a star atlas written by Andreas Cellarius and published in 1660 by Johannes Janssonius. The first part of the atlas contains copper plate prints depicting the world systems of Claudius Ptolemy, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe. At the end are star maps of the classical and further constellations, the latter ones as introduced by Julius Schiller in his Coelum stellatum christianum of 1627.

<i>Cambriae Typus</i> map of Wales

Cambriae Typus, the "model image of Wales", is the earliest published map of Wales as a separate country from the rest of Great Britain. Made by Elizabethan polymath Humphrey Llwyd in 1573, the map shows Wales stretching to the River Severn, including large areas of what is now England.

Mercator 1569 world map first map in Mercators projection

The Mercator world map of 1569 is titled Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigantium Emendate Accommodata. The title shows that Gerardus Mercator aimed to present contemporary knowledge of the geography of the world and at the same time 'correct' the chart to be more useful to sailors. This 'correction', whereby constant bearing sailing courses on the sphere are mapped to straight lines on the plane map, characterizes the Mercator projection. While the map's geography has been superseded by modern knowledge, its projection proved to be one of the most significant advances in the history of cartography, inspiring map historian Nordenskiöld to write "The master of Rupelmonde stands unsurpassed in the history of cartography since the time of Ptolemy." The projection heralded a new era in the evolution of navigation maps and charts and it is still their basis.

Pietro Coppo Italian geographer

Pietro Coppo was an Italian geographer and cartographer who wrote a description of the entire world as known in the 16th century, accompanied by a set of systematically arranged maps, one of the first rutters and also a precise description of the Istrian Peninsula, accompanied by its first regional map.

Early modern Netherlandish cartography

The period of late 16th and much of the 17th century has been called the "Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish cartography". The mapmaking firms of Antwerp and Amsterdam, especially, were leaders in supplying maps and charts for almost Europe. As James A. Welu (1987) notes, "For roughly a century, from 1570 to 1670, mapmakers working in the Low Countries brought about unprecedented advances in the art of cartography. The maps, charts, and globes issued during this period, at first mainly in Antwerp and later in Amsterdam, are distinguished not only by their accuracy according to the knowledge of the time, but also by their richness of ornamentation, a combination of science and art that has rarely been surpassed in the history of mapmaking."


  1. Mercator's own account of the reasons for choosing King Atlas are given in the preface of the 1595 atlas. A translation by David Sullivan is available in a digital version of the atlas published by Octavo. The text is freely available at the New York Society Library Archived March 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine , pdf page 104 (corresponding to p34 of Sullivan's text).
  2. "Road map". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
  3. Greeley, Ronald; Batson, Raymond. The NASA Atlas of the Solar System. ISBN   978-0521561273.
  4. Schwartz, John (2008-04-22). "The Body in Depth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
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