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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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Geocentric model
Credit: Bartolomeu Velho, Joaquim Alves Gaspar
Figure of the heavenly bodies - An illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric model of the Universe by Portuguese cosmographer and cartographer Bartolomeu Velho. Taken from his treatise Cosmographia, made in Paris, 1568.

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A polar grid

In mathematics, the polar coordinate system is a two-dimensional coordinate system in which each point on a plane is determined by an angle and a distance. The polar coordinate system is especially useful in situations where the relationship between two points is most easily expressed in terms of angles and distance; in the more familiar Cartesian or rectangular coordinate system, such a relationship can only be found through trigonometric formulation.

As the coordinate system is two-dimensional, each point is determined by two polar coordinates: the radial coordinate and the angular coordinate. The radial coordinate (usually denoted as r) denotes the point's distance from a central point known as the pole (equivalent to the origin in the Cartesian system). The angular coordinate (also known as the polar angle or the azimuth angle, and usually denoted by θ or t) denotes the positive or anticlockwise (counterclockwise) angle required to reach the point from the 0° ray or polar axis (which is equivalent to the positive x-axis in the Cartesian coordinate plane).

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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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