Six Centuries of Maps For Cartographic and Geographic Researchers

Europeana has a wealth of content available to researchers, both through its portal and its APIs. Europeana Research highlights this content and its research potential.

First Collection Title: Maps and Drawings from the Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales
Source: Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales
Licence for Metadata: CC0
Licence for Content: Public domain
Data Formats: Image, Text
Metadata Format: EDM (Europeana Data Model)
How Accessed: Europeana Portal, API console

Second Collection Title: Maps and Drawings from the Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico
Source: Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico
Licence for Metadata: CC0
Licence for Content: Public domain
Data Format: Image, Text
Metadata Format: EDM (Europeana Data Model)
How Accessed: Europeana Portal, API console

Two datasets available through Europeana Labs stand out for researchers interested in cartography, historical geography and the history of map-making, as well as those working with cultural geography, urban studies and issues related to to the growing interest in spatial and geographic perspectives in the social sciences (“the spatial turn”).

Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales and Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico together total some 9,000 objects, including portolan charts, city plans, and drawings of buildings and fortifications. These maps span the period from the 16th to the 20th century, and they are all in the public domain.


Edinburgh from Civitates Orbis Terrarum, vol. III, p. 39; Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf. Rights: Rights Reserved - Free Access.
Edinburgh from Civitates Orbis Terrarum, vol. III, p. 39; Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf. Rights: Rights Reserved - Free Access. This map is found in the third volume of Georg Braun’s major cartographic work from 1588. Worth noting is his attention to detail in the oblique perspective (for instance of Edinburgh Castle) and the typical figures in the foreground. Braun’s Civitates arguably brought in a new era of cartography.

The dataset from Biblioteca Virtual mainly contains maps from the 18th and 19th centuries – just over 1,000 and 2,000 maps, respectively. There are also 16th century maps (mainly portolan charts of Spanish and Dutch origin) and three of the six volumes of the wonderful 16th century Civitates Orbis Terrarum. This work contains more than 500 maps of cities from all around the world, 230 of which can be found in the available volumes.


Plano en perspectiva de la Villa de Aranda de Duero, Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales. Rights: Public Domain/No Copyright.
Plano en perspectiva de la Villa de Aranda de Duero, Catálogo Colectivo de la Red de Bibliotecas de los Archivos Estatales. Rights: Public Domain/No Copyright. An interesting example of Renaissance mapmaking, of the town Aranda de Duero in present-day Castile and León. Created in 1503, it was submitted to the Royal Council of Castile together with information in connection with the opening of the Barrionuevo street.

The maps in Braun’s Civitates are colourful, detailed bird’s-eye view pictures, offering a street plan and locations of important buildings like castles and cathedrals. They are what Ptolemy would have called chorographica, more artistic representations of a small region, rather than geographica, maps of countries or the world. The three volumes are scanned at high resolution (allowing for detailed analysis) and each page can be downloaded separately from the data provider.

In addition to their cartographic appeal, these are works of great beauty, adorned with a variety of surround elements and illustrations that themselves offer analytical routes into the maps. They offer value to urban studies researchers, who may be following the development of the urban settlements, and to researchers who are negotiating the role of space and place in, for instance, the organisation and regulation of society.

The other collection, the Catálogo Colectivo, contains over 5,000 maps and is dominated by 18th century content. Profile drawings of buildings, nautical charts, and road maps are some of the more special kinds of maps available. There is also sufficient 16th and 17th century material to study how maps have developed over time. The earliest object in the dataset, the 1503 Plano en perspectiva de la Villa de Aranda de Duero, uses an early approach to perspectival mapping and marks the starting point for a cavalcade of methods of mapping three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional surface. Through the various maps, it is for instance possible to see how hachures develop from their early Renaissance form to the shading of the 19th century, and how land forms change from stylised representations to attempts at faithful renderings of the mapped landscape.

These datasets, provided by state archives and libraries in Spain, offer possibilities to explore how space and place have been codified over the centuries, and how societies have been spatially organised. They allow us to examine the ways in which our three-dimensional surroundings have been reduced to two dimensions for various purposes – utilitarian as well as artistic. Finally, they provide a way to look at the past through the minds and pens of those who lived there.