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The Atlas Portal

Political and physical world map from the end of 2005

An atlas is a collection of maps, traditionally bound into book form, but now found in multimedia formats. As well as geographic features and political boundaries, many often feature geopolitical, social, religious and economic statistics.

The first book that could be called an atlas was constructed from the calculations of Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek geographer working in Alexandria circa A.D. 150. The first edition was published in Bologna in 1477 and was illustrated with a set of 27 maps, though scholars say that it is not known whether the printed maps were engraved versions of original maps made by Ptolemy, or whether they were constructed by medieval Greek scholars from Ptolemy's text.

Atlas of Greek mythology

The origin of the term atlas is a common source of misconception, perhaps because two different mythical figures named 'Atlas' are associated with mapmaking. King Atlas, a mythical King of Mauretania, was, according to legend, a wise philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who supposedly made the first celestial globe. However, the more widely known Atlas is a figure from Greek mythology.

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Whole world
Credit: NASA
Composite satellite image of the whole world in a plate carrée projection, a very simple map projection that has been in use since the earliest days of spherical cartography. The name is from the French for "flat and square". It is a special case of the equidistant cylindrical projection in which the horizontal coordinate is the longitude and the vertical coordinate is the latitude.

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Map of Earth showing lines of latitude (horizontally) and longitude (vertically)

A geographic coordinate system enables every location on the Earth to be specified in three coordinates, using mainly a spherical coordinate system. The Earth is not a sphere, but an irregular shape approximating an ellipsoid; the challenge is to define a coordinate system that can accurately state each topographical feature as an unambiguous set of numbers.

Latitude is the angle from a point on the Earth's surface and the equatorial plane, measured from the centre of the sphere. The north pole is 90° N; the south pole is 90° S. The 0° parallel of latitude is designated the equator. The equator is the fundamental plane of all geographic coordinate systems. The equator divides the globe into Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Longitude is the angle east or west of a reference meridian between the two geographical poles to another meridian that passes through an arbitrary point. All meridians are halves of great circles, and are not parallel. They converge at the north and south poles.

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World map by al-Idrisi

Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi (1100 - 1165 or 1166) was an Arab cartographer, geographer and traveller who lived in Sicily, at the court of King Roger II. Muhammad al-Idrisi was born in Ceuta and died in Sicily, or maybe in Sabtah. Al Idrisi claimed that he was a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad.

Al-Idrisi's best known work is his map of the world "lawh al-tarsim" (plank of draught), of 1154. He worked on the commentaries and illustrations for eighteen years at the court of King Roger II of Sicily. His map is now known as the 'Tabula Rogeriana', his book as the 'Geografia'. His maps were used extensively during the explorations of the era of the renaissance like the journeys of Christopher Columbus.

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WikiProject: Geography
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