This week is Cartography week, a series of posts loosely linked together, a bit like I was, to that gang who stole that herd of ducks, which I don’t want to talk about….
For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps – Christopher Columbus.
Old maps are great. I like them for the simple reason that back in olden times, accuracy was always edged to the side a little in favour of the current religious or political beliefs, which is understandable as those map makers would have wanted patronage, not to mention wanting to avoid a visit by the inquisition. It’s part of their charm these days and each one shows the richness of our heritage.
Reading one of these old topographical charts really is reading these days. It’s an insight into the time of its conception and who was the most powerful around, in short it’s a propaganda fest, focusing on the frivolous bits that are often at first glance overlooked or dismissed as mere frippery. Those symbols and drawings were not only there to fill up the map but in a good amount of cases also told their own stories.
Whether it be the frolicking of sea monsters or fleets of ships, each holds an interesting tale, perhaps some were just there to fill in the gaps and make these works of art look even more creative. Some though were – for example – to show the fertility of the land and the military might that occupied it or the extent of kingdoms (and equally the direction they had in mind to advance) with some well placed ships or an undaunted explorer.
Lots of images that were used to fill up the gaps as the world was being explored…sea monsters…rumoured things from the wild and fanciful stories brought back by excitable adventurers for the impressionable audience. It is fascinating to see how early cartographers married the fanciful with the known world and how news travelled on a local as well as international level. On a more satirical note, these images could be more dangerous when viewed as subtle or childish jibes at states, politicians or the religious order of the day.
From my personal American perspective, everything is different from Europe, of course . Being more isolated from the many ‘doorstep’ countries of other continents..it is interesting to see the other side of the coin, when I am blinkered to such a viewpoint as the European news which appears more balanced to world news as well as national. Having the internet just isn’t the same…except for the football scores, now those are universal!
Chatting about this always infuses me with the need to travel and experience far-flung places and strange (to me) customs. I want to see the less well-known, not the familiar touristy stuff. Whilst we are on the subject, what is it to have a country these days and be patriotic? Is the mix of culture, communication and transport links making us a global society? Either way I like to celebrate it all.