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An atlas is a collection of maps; it is typically a map of Earth or a region of Earth, but there are atlases of the other planets (and their satellites) in the Solar System. Furthermore atlases of anatomy exist, mapping out the human body or other organisms. 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.
The origin of the term atlas is a common source of misconception, perhaps because two different mythical figures named Atlas are associated with map making.
- King Atlas, a mythical King of Mauretania, was according to legend a wise philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who supposedly made the first celestial globe. It was this Atlas to whom Gerardus Mercator was referring when he first used the name "atlas", and he included a depiction of the King on the title-page.
- Atlas, son of Poseidon and Cleito, the daughter of Evenor, king of Atlantis.
- However, the more widely known Atlas is a figure from Greek mythology. He is the son of the Titan Iapetus and Clymene (or Asia), and brother of Prometheus. Atlas was punished by Zeus and made to bear the weight of the heavens (the idea of Atlas carrying the Earth is not correct according to the original myth) on his back. One of Heracles's labours was to collect the apples of the Hesperides, guarded by Ladon. Heracles went to Atlas and reasoned with him. Eventually, Atlas agreed to collect the apples, and Heracles was left to carry the weight. Atlas tried to leave Heracles there, but Heracles tricked him and Atlas was left to carry the heavens forever. In his epic the Odyssey, Homer refers to this Atlas as "one who knows the depths of the whole sea, and keeps the tall pillars who hold heaven and earth asunder".
In works of art, this Atlas is represented as carrying the heavens or the Celestial Sphere, on his shoulders. The earliest such depiction is the Farnese Atlas, now housed at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli in Naples, Italy. This figure is frequently found on the cover or title-pages of atlases. This is particularly true of atlases published by Dutch publishers during the second half of the seventeenth century. The image became associated with Dutch merchants, and a statue of this figure adorns the front of the World Trade Center in Amsterdam.
The first publisher to associate the Titan Atlas with a group of maps was Antonio Lafreri, on the title-page to Tavole moderne di geografia de la maggior parte del mondo di diversi autori. However, he did not use the word "atlas" in the title of his work.
A travel atlas is made for easy use during travel, and often has spiral bindings so it may be folded flat. 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.
A desk atlas is made similar to a reference book. It may be in hardback or paperback form.
With the coming of the global market, publishers in different countries can reprint maps from plates made elsewhere. This means that the place names on the maps often use the designations or abbreviations of the language of the country in which the feature is located, to serve the widest market. For example, islands near Russia have the abbreviation "O." for "ostrov", not "I." for "island". This practice differs from what is standard for any given language, and it reaches its extremity concerning transliterations from other languages. In particular, German mapmakers use the transliterations from Cyrillic developed by the Czechs, which are hardly used in English-speaking countries.
Selected general atlases
Some cartographically or commercially important atlases include the following:
- 17th century and earlier
- Atlas Novus (Blaeu, Netherlands, 1635–1658)
- Atlas Maior (Blaeu, Netherlands, 1662–1667)
- Cartes générales de toutes les parties du monde (France, 1658–1676)
- Dell'Arcano del Mare (England/Italy, 1645–1661)
- Piri Reis map (Ottoman Empire, 1570–1612)
- Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Ortelius, Netherlands, 1570–1612)
- Klencke Atlas (1660; one of the world's largest books)
- The Brittania (John Ogilby, 1670–1676)
- 18th century
- Atlas Nouveau (Amsterdam, 1742)
- Britannia Depicta (London, 1720)
- Cary's New and Correct English Atlas (London, 1787)
- 19th century
- Andrees Allgemeiner Handatlas (Germany, 1881–1939; in the UK as Times Atlas of the World, 1895)
- Rand McNally Atlas (United States, 1881–present)
- Stielers Handatlas (Germany, 1817–1944)
- 20th century
- Atlante Internazionale del Touring Club Italiano (Italy, 1927–1978)
- Atlas Mira (Soviet Union/Russia, 1937–present)
- Gran Atlas Aguilar (Spain, 1969/1970)
- The Historical Atlas of China (China)
- National Geographic Atlas of the World (United States, 1963–present)
- Pergamon World Atlas (1962/1968)
- Times Atlas of the World (United Kingdom, 1895–present)
- 21st century
- Atlas of Our Changing Environment
- Bird atlas
- European Atlas of the Seas
- Fictitious entry
- Google Maps
- NASA World Wind
- National Atlas of the United States
- Star atlas
- Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
- "Mercator, father of the atlas, turns 500". German Embassy's Department for Press, Information and Public Affairs. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- Mark S. Monmonier (2004). Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-53431-2.
- "Road map". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Atlas.|
- World Atlas
- ÖROK-Atlas Online: Atlas on spatial development in Austria
- Geography Network
- MapChart EarthAtlas, free online atlas with interactive maps about topics like demography, economy, health and environment.
- National Geographic MapMachine
History of atlases
- Atlases, at the US Library of Congress site - a discussion of many significant atlases, with some illustrations. Part of Geography and Maps, an Illustrated Guide.
Historical atlases online
- Centennia Historical Atlas required reading at the US Naval Academy for over a decade.
- Historical map web sites list, Perry-Castañeda Library, University of Texas
- Ryhiner Collection Composite atlas with maps, plans and views from the 16th-18th centuries, covering the globe, with about 16,000 images in total.
- Google Earth: a visual 3D interactive atlas.
- NASA's World Wind software.
- Wikimapia a wikiproject designed to describe the entire world.