Illustrated maps appear in the history of geographical science approximately 700 years ago and mainly in the region of Central and South Europe. As artifacts were and still remain a complicated and time consuming endeavour in terms of completion. This is the reason why in the old days only a prototype was produced and in some rear cases very few copies, each one of which was made entirely in hand by specialized craftsmen. Most of the times, the recipients of such maps were official authorities of the territory portrayed.
This status however changed with the presence of premature typography which contributed in the reproduction΄s increase of such maps in hundreds of copies, making them available to a wider public well-off merchants mostly who were interested in ¨advertising¨ their city and its commercial services.
From that point on, hundreds of craftsmen, unknown or distinguished, were hired and sent to every big civil center in order to cartograph in a legible and comprehensive way, places of commodities΄ production which arrived in Central Europe from all over the world. In this way, everyone interested in investing money to a territory, could have a clear image of it, observe the fluctuations of growth in several civil centers and cultivate a wider and more substantial perception of the world which, at that time, was still under exploration.
The commercial and touristic promotion had found the most suitable tool for its management. This tool was the illustrated maps that accompanied every travel and commercial manual as well as every Atlas of local or world-wide Geography.
Their usefulness and efficiency is proved by the enormous and massive production - reaching hundreds of thousands - that took place during the last four centuries and the eminent position that - the ones which have survived in time - occupy nowadays in several museums around the world. Today, illustrated maps, beyond their unquestionable artistic worth, carry a historical value as well because they give the potentiality to scholars to follow and comprehend - through their succession - the civil, commercial and social development of cities that had been cartographer in different successive periods of their growth.
In the early years of 20th century a “scientific spirit” appeared in all aspects of design and art “calling” for the abolishment of every “nonscientific” element in the “modern” creative process. This approach, resulted in the elimination of any illustration that was “not necessary” and in that way deprived the art of cartography of its most enjoyable and useful feature. During the past century the city maps after a half millennium continuity of being an illustrated sensational experience, became the “dry” topographical vertical overview that puzzled since then any reader or traveler, unfamiliar to their use.
A topographical vertical overview no matter how useful might be to an urban civil engineer or to a colonel of artillery, can be a real torture for an untrained reader who tries to navigate with it in a new urban environment. Thus producing the very common icon of a group or a single tourist standing in a city corner turning his map like a wheel left and right, while at the same moment he turns his head all around trying to understand where he is standing! Especially in difficult terrains such as the most city centers are, using a map like the one mentioned can make someone feel lost in a greater degree than if he did not used it!!
That’s why the last two decades the illustration in cartography made a great comeback reappearing in the map surfaces. The first step came by adding sketches of the most significant monuments in the city, in order to provide the eye of the reader with some reference points.
As the time passes by, even more map designers and publishers try to add this kind of illustrations in their maps, or they create full illustrated maps, the so called “bird’s eye view” which are literally a 3D prospective design of the area depicted.
Even in the modern era of the satellite real images, a vertical overview image of an urban area is less useful and certainly less impressive than an ankle view that creates a 3D impression. That’s why now days, also in the digital satellite platforms the new tendency is the option for the user to create an ankle view of the terrain in which the buildings are popping up as 3D models on the satellite image transforming the boring flat image in a joy full spectacle.
And there we have it! Handmade or computerized, printed or digital the illustration is returning in cartography with great passes once more!
“A small step backwards for the designer is coming as an easier step forward for the traveler...!”