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World map

Cartography (also cartography ) is the science and technology for the representation of celestial bodies in topographical and thematic maps , in the simplest case maps . Defined more generally, mediated and illustrates them spatial information (for example, geographical information ) with analog and digital methods for different media . The manufacturers of these media are called cartographers .


Objects of representation in cartography are the earth and its surface, but also planets , moons and other celestial bodies. In particular, the earth's surface with its diverse conditions ( terrain , water, vegetation , traffic routes, land use , etc.), with its geoscientific and infrastructural issues and with its social, political and historical processes, cartography demands a great variety of methods.

The subject can be divided according to different criteria. At least the subdivision into “theoretical cartography” and “applied cartography” makes sense . The latter (also called “practical cartography”) can be divided into “commercial cartography” ( map publishers ) and “official cartography”. But also other structures, e.g. B. by subject area, are possible and common.

In cartography, a distinction is made between different media for illustration. In the first place, of course, the map, but also related modes of representation, such as globes , panoramas or relief representations of the terrain . In addition to these traditional illustration media, some modern ones have recently been added, e.g. B. GIS and other computer programs with the help of which spatial information is presented statically or interactively as graphics, images, photos, films or as three-dimensional models.

Old, ornately designed maps, but also the artistry of the topographers and cartographers are often viewed from an artistic point of view.

The term "cartography" emerged around 1828. It is made up of the Greek "χάρτης" ("chàrtis" = map) comes from the verb → "χαράσσω" ("charàsso" = scratch / engrave) & "γραφή" ("graphḗ" = writing)

( "Χάρτης" + "γραφή" = χαρτογραφία [Greek], "chartografia" = cartography [German]).

The Association of Surveying Administrations (AdV) of the German federal states and the German Society for Cartography e. V. (DGfK) continue to write “cartography”, while the spelling “cartography” has established itself in the private sector, in Austria and in official use in Switzerland.


A cartographer at work (1943)

The main task and the core problem of cartography is complex, in the original space - at a scale of 1: - to ereignende phenomena, issues and processes on a 1 to scale significantly smaller display area ( map sheet describing mapping, screen) and. In order to make this possible in a meaningful way, the cartographers have to select or summarize the most important or typical data from the abundance of original data and generalize them for presentation . A system of cartographic symbols (signatures) is primarily used to illustrate the information that is worth displaying . The generalization of the original data and the design and arrangement of the signatures must be carried out in such a way that the user of the cartographic product can easily take in and understand the information to be conveyed. Ultimately, from the original room, e.g. B. a section of the earth's surface, a model can be created in the form of the cartographic product, which enables the user to gain an idea of ​​the original and to expand or correct his cognitive map in memory .

Another problem in cartography is the three-dimensionality of the earth. In order to depict larger sections of the earth's surface or even the entire globe in the two-dimensional display area of ​​a map, special map projection methods are required , which mathematical cartography is dedicated to.

For the spatial definition (geocoding) of the objects and facts to be displayed on the map, large-scale cartography works with geocentric coordinates, longitudes and latitudes , while small-scale cartography for the representation of geographical objects with an extension of less than 800 km in one direction Neglect the curvature of the earth or compensate for it with correction factors. There, especially for individual countries, local Cartesian coordinate systems are used, such as the Gauß-Krüger coordinates in Germany. The global UTM coordinate system is also defined, divided into 800 km wide, vertical strips, 60 small-scale, metric coordinate systems that - partially overlapping - span the earth from west to east.

For most of the adults, the basic cartographic work ( map comprehension and forms of map usage ) was in the general school (local studies or general knowledge lessons and geography lessons). "It should never be overlooked that attitudes towards the card or the use of cards in life are significantly shaped during school days"

History of cartography

Ancient and Middle Ages

The oldest maps date from the Neolithic . A wall painting shows a settlement around 6200 BC. With their houses and the double peak of the Hasan Dağı volcano (border area of ​​the provinces of Aksaray and Niğde (Cappadocia region) in Turkey). Significant early evidence comes from the Babylonian period. Anaximander , a pupil of Thales , made the first serious attempt to produce a usable map using mathematical and geometric knowledge around 541 BC. Chr.

The Greek Ptolemy's view of the world (around 100 AD) was to be formative for the subsequent epochs . In the oldest manuscripts of his cosmography there are hand drawings of cards. However, the essence of the work was a directory of astronomical positions with astronomical latitude and longitude . The works of Ptolemy, although still strongly flawed, experienced a considerable distribution after more than 1000 years due to the onset of letterpress printing around 1450. It was not until the increase in global seafaring around 1500 and the works of Gerhard Mercator that a change was made towards more realism in cartography.

Furthermore, the Tabula Peutingeriana has survived from Roman times , a road map of the Roman Empire distorted unnaturally from west to east with details of the military stations and distances in miles .

In the Middle Ages, the first maps were created by Muslim geographers who, on the basis of more recent observations, measurements and discoveries, corrected Ptolemy's work, which was translated into Arabic in the 8th century, and had a considerable influence on European cartography. Particularly noteworthy here are al-Istakhris maps from the 10th century, and the world map Charta Rogeriana by Abu Abdallah al-Idrisi (also called World Map of Idrisi ) commissioned by King Rogers II of Sicily in 1154 .

In the late Middle Ages, the mappae mundi with their most famous representatives, the Ebstorf world map (approx. 1235) and the Hereford world map (approx. 1270), were created. At the same time there were already quite precise maps of the Mediterranean, the so-called portolan maps . The picture at the end of the Middle Ages shows the globe of the Nuremberg scholar Martin Behaim from 1492 .

Early modern age

Cartography made significant progress from the 16th and 17th centuries. Gradually, Ptolemy's emancipation, the adaptation of certain map projections , the replacement of fabulous and hypothetical fillings with the results of new discoveries in the area of ​​the Asian and American continents.

In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann published a globe and a world map as well as an "Introduction to Cosmography". The first modern atlases were created. A milestone is the atlas by Abraham Ortelius ( Theatrum Orbis Terrarum ) with 70 maps in the first edition (1570). The Dutch now set the tone in cartography. The atlas designed by Gerhard Mercator initially appeared as an incomplete version with 51 maps (1585).

In the early modern period there were also innovations in neighboring sectors that were of practical use, especially for travelers. The travel map (a forerunner of the road atlas ), the mileage disk (an early form of the distance table ), the city ​​map and the bird's eye view plan , the bird's eye view of the city , opened up opportunities for printers and publishers to earn money.

In the 18th century, map engraving , like printing , had become a trade . German centers such as Nuremberg ( Johann Baptist Homann ) and Augsburg ( Matthäus Seutter ) were important.

18th to 20th century

Bern on the Dufour map

Through the publication of the Curieusen Gedancken of the most distinguished and most accurate country charts , based on his earlier geographical writings , the geographer and polymath Johann Gottfried Gregorii alias MELISSANTES became one of the founders of map science in 1713 alongside Caspar Gottschling and a little later Eberhard David Hauber and finally initiated the Processing the history of cartography. In this basic work Gregorii suggests map divisions, signatures and quality features, describes the state of cartography around 1700 and presents more than 120 biograms of important cartographers. The cartography theorist , who cooperated with Johann Baptist Homann, wrote text to small-format school atlases , which Johann Christoph Weigel published from 1717 in Nuremberg under the title ATLAS PORTATILIS .

With Jacques and César Cassini , who completed the great triangulation of France and the large topographical map based on it from 1750 to 1793 , the time of precise topographical land surveys and critical processing of the maps began. French scientists and officers now decisively influenced cartography.

At that time, however, more precise land surveys were limited to flat stretches of land, while the high mountains were only shown schematically. Only the innovative activity of the first two farmer cartographers from Tyrol, Peter Anich and Blasius Hueber , overcame this deficiency with the work on the Atlas Tyrolensis (1760–1774) using suitable triangulations, easily portable measuring instruments, their own mountain projections and incidence of light from the south or west. For the first time, they also precisely represented glacier and alpine regions.

In the middle of the 19th century, General Guillaume-Henri Dufour created a 1: 100,000 map series of Switzerland with an illumination from the northwest. This direction of lighting was subsequently adopted by many cartographers. Thanks to the invention of lithography, it also became possible to print cards in multiple colors. This made the map image clearer. The 19th century is also the heyday of atlas cartography in Germany. Important names in this context are Adolf Stieler and Richard Andree .

As in other areas, the 20th century brought about radical changes in the original production and reproduction of cartography . With remote sensing and photogrammetry , a new rich data source, the aerial and satellite image , has been found, which today is indispensable. With the advent of the computer after World War II, the image of cartography changed significantly. As part of the establishment of route planners on CD-ROM and as an online service as well as GPS navigation systems, the development has been reflected in many products.

Quality features of cartographic products

The quality of this map of the island of Timor from 1731 leaves a lot to be desired

In order to evaluate the quality of cartographic products, they have to be checked according to several criteria. A distinction must be made here between conventional printed maps and modern forms of digital map display. Printed cartographic products are usually floor plans , the terrain is viewed “from above”. This results in relatively clearly defined accuracy and other quality criteria.

Quality of printed maps

The quality of conventional (printed) maps is usually determined by properties such as the completeness of the map content, accuracy, legibility and comprehensibility of the map display, and the aesthetics of the cartographic design.


Completeness is given if the map - measured in terms of the purpose and scale - completely reproduces the objects and facts that are actually present.


When it comes to the accuracy of a map, a distinction is generally made between geometric and semantic (thematic) accuracy. A map is geometrically accurate if the map symbols (signatures) used depict the corresponding spatial objects in the correct position and in the correct geometric context within the scope of the scale and generalization-related display options. It is semantically accurate if the map symbols used in the map correctly reflect the meaning of the corresponding spatial objects.

Readability and comprehensibility

Legibility and comprehensibility of a card apply if the card user can quickly and easily get an accurate picture of the reality shown while reading the card. This can be determined from various features. Graphically well designed map symbols with high symbolic power and sensible coloring facilitate understanding ("self-explanatory" map or realistic map ). A good generalization helps to ensure that the essential and typical objects or facts are reproduced and that the map neither appears too empty nor too overloaded. (This should not be confused with the fact that a map naturally appears differently densely due to different conditions to be displayed - e.g. densely populated areas and large agricultural areas.)

Examples of legibility and comprehensibility:

  • Symbolic power: In a city map, a hospital is symbolized by a red cross, a post office by a yellow post horn .
  • Coloring: Colors also have a great symbolic effect, which can be used when designing a card. So z. B. Settlements are usually shown in red, waters in blue, forests in green. It is important to ensure that colors are not graded too finely, because a user can recognize a maximum of three different gradations of the same color on the map legend. The color recognizability is strongly dependent on the neighboring color and on the contrast effect.
  • Generalization of built-up areas: While every building is shown on a 1: 5000 map, several buildings have to be combined to form a building signature on a scale of 1: 50,000. No buildings at all can be shown at a scale of 1: 500,000; here a built-up area is represented by a colored area.
  • Generalization of roads: The boundary lines of a 25 m wide road system have a distance of 2.5 mm on a scale of 1: 10,000. Such a double line is easy to read. At a scale of 1: 100,000, the two lines would only be 0.25 mm apart when shown to scale and would no longer be recognizable as a double line. So that the map remains understandable, the street is represented by a double-lined signature, the two lines of which are at least 1 mm apart, even if this corresponds to a street width of 100 m on a scale of 1: 100,000 that is four times too large
  • Inadequate generalization: A map must always be rejected as defective if it has been photomechanically or digitally reduced in size without cartographic processing and generalization, so that its contents can no longer be interpreted correctly or have even become illegible.

Aesthetics of the cartographic design

Although not all people have the same aesthetic sensibility, there are a few characteristics that can be used to identify a beautiful map that appeals to the viewer. Apart from the above-mentioned characteristics, which should be fulfilled, well-designed, harmoniously coordinated signatures and a subtle, but expressive and effective color scheme speak for a successful card.

Political or economic influences

The quality of a map can generally also be impaired by the fact that countries in which the freedom of information is severely restricted subject cartographic products to censorship or influence. Despite careful cartographic work and an appealing design, they can then have considerable geometric or semantic defects.

For economic reasons, not all manufacturers of cartographic products employ specialists or provide an order with adequate financial resources. For this reason, too, results can be of unsatisfactory quality.

Special forms

In contrast, the qualitative assessment of the relief maps and alpine panoramas - mostly also assigned to cartography - is hardly possible any more objectively. Here the representation of the alpine terrain and the viewer's perspective, which is strongly distorted in each mountain range, as well as his imagination play a decisive role. However, the majority of users can imagine the mountain and valley landscapes better with good panoramas than with maps , no matter how precise.

Quality of digital maps

In modern digital cartography, in which spatial information is displayed statically or dynamically on screens and displays and users can communicate interactively, the quality features of analog maps are not sufficient for assessing quality. Here, quality must also affect the entire information system and its components, such as B. databases and programs. One therefore speaks more accurately here of usability .

Official cartography

Example of official cartography

In the field of official (official) cartography, cartographic products are edited or published in public tasks by authorities or comparable public institutions. The public tasks, some of which are based on a law, consist of using cartographic means for the purpose of national defense, public security and general services. In this sense, the management, publication and provision of, above all, belong to the official cartography

Official maps, especially topographical maps , can generally be purchased by anyone, provided they are not subject to a public use restriction. When pricing official maps , it must be taken into account that the sometimes considerable costs for recording, processing and graphically presenting geodata are covered by tax revenues. With the purchase price, the consumer only shares in the costs of printing, storage and distribution or data preparation and provision.


In Germany, the official topographical cartography is constitutionally part of the legislative competence of the federal states. These perform the task on the basis of surveying laws and maintain state surveying offices or comparable institutions for this purpose. The Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy (BKG), based in Frankfurt am Main, has set up the Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy (BKG) to perform higher-level geodetic tasks and, above all, to supply federal institutions with geographic reference data . The states have agreed with the federal government through administrative agreements that the BKG will process and publish the topographic maps and data 1: 200,000 and smaller scales for all of Germany.

Official geothematic maps are processed and issued by the federal government, the federal states and the municipalities depending on their legal jurisdiction. These include B. geoscientific maps, spatial and regional planning maps or maps of land use planning.

Official nautical charts, especially for navigation, are edited and published by the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) based in Hamburg and Rostock. The federal government has laid down this in the Maritime Tasks Act.

In the GDR, the Dresden Topographical Service with the branch office for photogrammetry (aerial photo evaluation) in Leipzig , the Erfurt Topographical Service and the Schwerin Topographical Service were responsible for the national maps (economy edition), the national location and height networks and the gravity network. From 1971 the Geodesy and Cartography Combine was responsible for official geodesy and cartography with the Administration of Surveying and Mapping , which was subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior of the GDR. In addition, there were various tasks, such as the national maps (state edition) at the NVA's military topographical service with the military cartographic service in Halle and the Potsdam cartographic service . The official topographic maps were based on the topographic map of the GDR with a scale of 1: 10,000 as the basic scale.


The Federal Office for Metrology and Surveying (BEV) is responsible for official cartography in Austria.


The Federal Office of Topography (swisstopo) is responsible for official cartography in Switzerland.


Cartography is an academic course of study at five universities and several technical colleges around the world, including in the German-speaking area at the TU Dresden (Faculty of Environmental Sciences; supervised by the Institute for Cartography there ), at the HTW Dresden and the University of Munich .


Since 2001, the market share of printed city maps or street maps has decreased by around ten percent per year. Data suppliers with extensive databases for navigation devices are, for example, Navteq and Tele Atlas . School cartography as "basic cartography for everyone" and as a former pioneering field of analog cartography still occupies a considerable place in publishing cartography today (2013).

While the development of school cartography in the GDR was controlled centrally by the people's education and school system via Volk und Wissen Verlag (Berlin) and VEB Hermann Haack (Gotha), school books in West Germany were mainly produced according to the specifications of publishers. In Germany as a whole (from 1990) this principle was retained in the production of cartographic teaching materials, so that nowadays (in the dawning age of geomatics ) cartographic media are developed on the basis of framework curricula, mainly by relevant school book publishers in cooperation with specialist scientists and educational consultants.

As textbook publishers , school atlases and student handbook cards in Germany produce, for example, Cornelsen / Volk und Wissen (Berlin), Klett-Perthes (Gotha) and Westermann to name (Braunschweig). The publishers Klett-Perthes and Westermann are also leaders in the development of school wall maps.

New developments

In addition to the chargeable data from commercial data providers, freely available spatial databases are also being created in the course of the further development of Internet services, which are set up and maintained in non-commercial projects. OpenStreetMap is an example . The cartographic quality requirements are not guaranteed, at least in the development phase, but the topicality already exceeds that of the major geodata providers in some areas.


Related topics

See also


  • Jörg-Geerd Arentzen: Imago mundi cartographica. Studies on the imagery of medieval world and ecumenical maps with special consideration of the interaction of text and image. Munich 1984
  • Leo Bagrow , Raleigh Ashlin Skelton: Masters of Cartography. Safari, Berlin 1973
  • Peter Barber (Ed.): The book of cards. Milestones in cartography from three millennia. Primus, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-89678-299-1 .
  • Jürgen Bollmann, Wolf Günther Koch (Ed.): Lexicon of cartography and geomatics. Spectrum, Heidelberg 2001–2002, ISBN 3-8274-1055-X (Volume 1), ISBN 3-8274-1056-8 (Volume 2)
  • Anna-Dorothee von den Brincken : Mappa mundi and Chronographia. Studies on the imago mundi of the occidental Middle Ages. In: German Archive for Research into the Middle Ages. Issue 24, 1968, pp. 118-186
  • Anna-Dorothee von den Brincken: Europe in the cartography of the Middle Ages . In: Archives for cultural history. Volume 55, No. 2. Vienna et al. 1973, pp. 289-304.
  • Anna-Dorothee von den Brincken, Evelyn Edson, Emilie Savage-Smith: The medieval cosmos. Maps of the Christian and Islamic world. Darmstadt 2005
  • Denis Cosgrove: Mappings. London 1999
  • collectively orangotango + (Ed.): This Is Not an Atlas. A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies. ("This is not an atlas. A global collection of counter-cartographies."), Transcript 2018, ISBN 978-3-8376-4519-4 , available online at
  • Gisela Engel, Tanja Michalsky , Felicitas Schmieder (eds.): Supervision - view - insight. New perspectives on cartography on the threshold of the early modern era , Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-89626-720-7
  • Brigitte English: Ordo orbis terrae. The worldview in the Mappae mundi of the early and high Middle Ages. Academy, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-05-003635-4
  • Georg Glasze: Critical Cartography. In: Geographical Journal. Volume 97, Issue 4, 2009, pp. 181–191. (( online , PDF; 674 kB))
  • John Goss: Card Art. The history of cartography. Braunschweig 1994.
  • Georges Grosjean, Rudolf Kinauer: Card art and card technology from ancient times to the baroque. Bern / Stuttgart 1970
  • Günter Hake, Dietmar Grünreich, Liqiu Meng: Cartography. Visualization of space-time information. 8th edition. De Gruyter, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-11-016404-3
  • Rolf Harbeck: On the situation of the official topographical cartography in Germany. In: Cartographic News. 55th year, issue 6, 2005, p. 297
  • Herma Kliege: Worldview and presentation practice of high medieval world maps. Munster 1991
  • Betsy Mason, Greg Miller: Card Worlds. Fantastic stories and the art of cartography. National Geographic, Munich 2019. ISBN 978-3-86690-697-6
  • Eckart Roloff : Maps. Paths and wrong ways to distant lands. In: Divine flashes of inspiration. Pastors and priests as inventors and discoverers. Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2010, ISBN 978-3-527-32578-8 , pp. 29-35
  • Rudi Ogrissek (Ed.): ABC Kartenkunde. Brockhaus, Leipzig 1983, ISBN 3-87144-784-6
  • Rudi Ogrissek: Tasks of school cartography as an example for the application of special theories. In: Theoretical Cartography. (= Study Library Cartography. Volume 1). Gotha 1987, ISBN 3-7301-0570-1 , pp. 265-270
  • Vitalis Pantenburg: The portrait of the earth. History of cartography. Stuttgart 1970.
  • Christian Reder (ed.): Cartographic thinking . Springer, Vienna / New York 2012, ISBN 978-3-7091-0994-6
  • Steffen Siegel, Petra Weigel (ed.): The cartographer's workshop. Materials and practices of visual world creation. Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-7705-5187-3
  • John JW Thrower: Maps and Civilization. Cartography in Culture and Society. 2nd Edition. Chicago, London 1999.
  • Wolfgang Wüst: Plans for becoming a state - cards as media for the illustrated power in the early modern era , in: Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte 152 (2016) 2018, pp. 281-304.

Web links

Wiktionary: to map  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. R. Ogrissek 1987, p. 267.
  2. Gudrun Krämer: History of Islam. CH Beck, Munich 2005, p. 312.
  3. see also: Old Maps from Japan
  4. Carsten Berndt: Over 300 years of map research - Johann Gottfried Gregorii alias Melissantes (1685–1770) and his contribution to the history of cartography. In: 17th Colloquium of Cartography History: Eichstätt, 9.-11. October 2014: Lectures, reports, posters / edited by Markus Heinz; in connection with the “History of Cartography” commission of the German Society for Cartography eV, the DA-CH working group for the history of cartography, and the Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage, Bonn 2017, pp. 51–70.
  5. Ruthardt Oehme: Eberhard David Hauber (1695-1765), A Swabian Scholarly Life. Stuttgart 1976.
  6. Caspar Gottschling: Attempt of a HISTORY of the land charts. Hall 1711, preface
  7. ^ Edgar [Theodor] Lehmann: Old German maps. Leipzig 1935, p. 9.
  8. The Cartography course. (No longer available online.) Institute for Cartography at TU Dresden , archived from the original on January 2, 2012 ; Retrieved December 15, 2011 .
  9. Interview with Franz Pietruska
  14. transcript: This Is Not an Atlas. Retrieved November 30, 2018 .