Renaissance Maps

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The Age of Exploration

The Renaissance, the Age of Exploration (from the 1450's, including Columbus' travels to America in 1492 onwards), and the availability of printing all added enormously to the development of mapping.

Maps were extremely important for the European powers such as Spain and Portugal, who were competing to discover and claim ownership for parts of North and South America, also known as The New World.

Their availability were also very important for Europeans when setting up trade routes with China and the Indies. The charts and diaries of travellers such as Magellan and Drake became extremely valuable posessions to a country. Selling or copying such maps to another country was a criminal offence.

Mercator's Projection

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), the famous Flemish cartographer, created the first effective way of showing the world as a sphere on a flat surface in the mid-16th century. This was known as the Mercator projection. His world map of 1569 was the best to date. He produced an atlas in 1578 and this was regulary updated to include new information in later issues. We still use The Mercator projection today.

Mecator is famous for what is called his projection. He devised a way of making globes of the Earth. Until then there was no way of showing a map of the world other than on a flat sheet of paper. He knew that the Earth was a sphere - but how would you show that using a map? Have you ever tried to wrap up a football? That is what it would be like trying to wrap a map of the world around a sphere. The ends would be all wrinkled and information would be lost.

He made the globes from papier-mache  spheres, coated in thin plaster. Next he divided the map of the world into 12 different pieces, like segments of an orange that were narrow and each end near the North & South Poles and wider in the middle. He then put all the pieces together (like a 3D Jigsaw) and stuck them in the correct places on the globe.

Look at the map below to to see Mercator's 1554 map of the world. Can you find Ireland?