A map says to us “Read me carefully and closely without any doubt as I am the earth in the palm of your hand.”

What are Maps?

A map is a symbolic depiction which denotes relationships between elements of some space such as objects, regions, and themes. Most maps are drawn to a scale to express a ratio between two or more units of measurement.

The word 'map' originated from the Latin word 'mappa' which meant a napkin or paper. Why so? Because these were the usual materials the earliest maps were drawn on.


“A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going — in a sense it’s three tenses in one.” – Peter Greenaway

Maps are as old as our desire to explore; maps give us a sense of being in the world. From the wall paintings in Egypt to the 21st century maps, a lot of learning and unlearning has happened in the process of perfecting the art of representing the world on a two-dimensional surface.

The graphical representation of landscape features of an area of the Earth and their symbolic depiction are at the heart of any map. Maps that reflect information other than land area or distance are called cartograms. General-purpose maps such as atlas maps, wall maps, and road maps provide different information on a single map.

History of Maps

Maps emerged out of a necessity and evolved as a mark of progress of a civilization. Cave paintings and rock carvings, dating as early as 12,000 BC, were considered the first map-like representations that have helped in recognizing landscape features such as mountains, rivers, valleys, and Neolithic towns.

To find the earliest specimen of maps, one has to refer to the wooden tablets of Babylonia (present-day Iraq) and the land drawings found in Egypt. These two civilizations were among the first to demonstrate their mapping skills.

The Babylonians and Egyptians, much before the Greeks started creating maps, had made several attempts to depict the form and extent of the Earth. However, their objective of mapping was restricted to their local needs. The baton was passed on to the Greeks and Romans who refined the art of mapmaking. Ptolemy's 'Geographia,' was considered a notable work in 150 AD.

After a prolonged lull in the Middle Age, the world got back its focus on map-making during the Renaissance period. With the invention of the printing press and the growth of major publishing houses, maps became accessible to all. The establishment of institutions such as the French Academy of Science further gave a boost to map-making.

The earliest traces of thematic maps could be seen in the late 18th century when maps were produced to record the spread of a particular event, especially spread of disease or the extent of a flood.

Modern maps are drawn based on the borrowed concept that bird's eye view of a landscape is ideal for creating map. With the exposure to scientific knowledge and understanding of geography, maps started becoming more complex and more accurate.

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