A World Atlas is a collection of world maps generally bound together in the form of a book or similar publication.
Interestingly, the world atlas
that denotes any collection of maps and charts is derived from the figure of Atlas in Greek Mythology who is depicted as a giant holding the world on his shoulders. The image of Atlas was used for the first time by the famous cartographer Gerardus Mercator to illustrate the front cover of his collection of maps in the sixteenth century.
Abraham Ortelius' Theatrum orbis terrarum
(1570), which literally translates as 'Epitome of the Theatre of the World' is considered to be the first modern atlas. In the later centuries high-quality atlases were produced by Dutch cartographers as exemplified by the work of Mercator.
The French were closely behind although their atlases were less ornate but equally accurate and reliable. German atlases on the other hand carried a lot of supplementary details including charts, pictures and elaborate notes. In fact even modern day world atlases carry other details besides world maps such as world economic data, diagrams and other graphical representation of different kinds of data, brief factual information about places and physical features, and indexes of place names that are keyed to coordinates of latitude and longitude or sometimes to a locational grid with numbers and letters along the margins of the maps.
The most important world atlas maps show the distribution of the varied natural landforms and topographical features of the earth's surface on a global scale and depicts the main features of elevation and depression on the earth's surface together with a graphic representation of the earth's various contours and its most prominent physical features. The world atlas
maps also show the boundaries separating the various countries and other political entities of the world including their land borders and maritime boundaries together with their territorial waters and coastlines.