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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 most often 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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Pictorial maps are a category of maps that are also loosely called illustrated maps, panoramic maps, perspective maps, bird’s-eye view maps and Geopictorial maps amongst others.

In contrast to the regular road map, Atlas or topographic cartography, pictorial maps depict a given territory with a more artistic rather than technical style. The cartography can be a sophisticated 3-D perspective landscape or a simple map graphic enlivened with illustrations of buildings, people and animals. They can feature all sorts of varied topics like historical events, legendary figures or local agricultural products and cover anything from an entire continent to a college campus. Drawn by specialized artists and illustrators, pictorial maps are a rich, centuries-old tradition and a diverse art form that ranges from cartoon maps on restaurant placemats to treasured art prints in museums. Pictorial maps usually show an area as if viewed from above at an oblique angle. They are not generally drawn to scale in order to show street patterns, individual buildings, and major landscape features in perspective.

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A "Romweg" map by Erhard Etzlaub

Erhard Etzlaub, was an astronomer, geodesist, cartographer, instrument maker and physician. From letters from a third party dated 1500 and 1507, we learn that he was a well-known instrument ("compass") maker and a geodesist, and from a letter dated 1517, that "he had also practicised as a physician for at least four years". His death is noted in as the 15th entry in an official list of 20 people buried between December 20, 1531 and February 21, 1532.

On occasion of the Holy Year 1500, when many pilgrims were expected to go to Rome, he designed his famous "Rom-Weg" map, a 41 x 29 cm wood engraving in stereographic projection of app. scale 1:5,6 mio., the earliest printed road map of central Europe. It is, as all of Etzlaub's maps, "South-up". Distances between cities can be computed by dotted lines, where a one-dot-step means one German Mile (7400m). If the prints were coloured, they show political regions, too.

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