Over the centuries, as cities have risen and fallen, so too have different map-making styles come in and out of favor. This means period maps of cities offer not only a fascinating glimpse in time, but also a showcase of the artistic and cartographic sensibilities of the day. Here we've grabbed 10 of our most vibrant and interesting city maps to showcase cities and renderings from as far back as 1574 up through to near present day.
1. 1574 Amsterdam
The oldest documentary evidence of "Aemstelredamme" (Amsterdam), 'dam in the river Amstel', comes from a document dated October 27th 1275 CE. This 16th century map shows a highly organized and efficiently functioning city surrounded on all sides by water, with a port in the lower center and canals running throughout the city. Fortress-like fortifications line the outer channels in a number of places, thus controlling the city's points of entry and exit. Myriad seagoing vessels are depicted, and a large number of the Netherlands' famous windmills are seen at the edge of the city. In the city center, three cathedrals are depicted, with a legend in the lower left quadrant that features 28 place names.
Other Noteworthy Maps by Braun and Hogenberg
2. 1734-36 Turgot Plan of Paris
A monumental map made up of twenty sheets that shows one of the most impressive bird's eye views of Paris ever produced. In 1734 Michel-Étienne Turgot, chief of the municipality of Paris, commissioned Michel-Étienne Turgot to create a statement piece to be presented to foreign and domestic dignitaries intended to boast the architecture and layout of the historic city. In order to achieve this, Turgot was given special permission to enter private mansions, houses, and gardens to take measurements and make sketches. His impressive work of art speaks for itself.
Other Wall Mural Style Maps
3. 1748 Nolli's Pianta Grande di Roma (Great Map of Rome)
This 18th century cartographic masterpiece by Giambattista Nolli presents the ancient city of Rome in its Renaissance form by way of a geometric projection that shows the outer walls of buildings and structures throughout. The map was so accurate that it was utilized for centuries as a base for later maps of the city, most recently in the 1970s. All of Rome’s most iconic structures can be found within the top left portion of the map- the Parthenon, Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and, of course, the Vatican.
In the lower left corner, a collage of classical landmarks includes the Arch of Constantine, the Forum, Trajan's Column, and the Colosseum. In the foreground, allegorical figures rest behind a broken statue of Romulus and Remus. The lower right corner contains more allegorical figures representing of the Church seated before Michelangelo’s architectural works on the Capitoline Hill.
Other Maps of Rome
4. 1792 Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia
This image is a beautiful reproduction of the original plan for the city that would become Washington D.C., the seat of governmental power in the United States. For many years after the U.S. gained independence from Great Britain, the location of the capital was undecided. Prior to 1790, Congress met at Philadelphia, Lancaster, York, Annapolis, Boston, Princeton, Trenton, and New York City. The Residence Act of 1790 established 10 square miles along the Potomac River, donated by Virginia and Maryland, that would become the official capital.
Maps of Other American Cities
5. 1844 Nazareth
The village of Nazareth is obviously of great importance in Christian mythology, as it is believed to be where Jesus grew up. In 1839, the time the original drawing this lithograph is a copy of was made, Nazareth was a sleepy village. The vantage point from which the artist, David Roberts, sketched the town reveals a goatherd leading his flock towards a small, ancient settlement with walled fortifications, ruins, and a mosque with a minaret. A group of people stand near a circle of tents in an open plain below the village.
Other Lithograph Maps
6. 1861 Map of Edo (Tokyo), Japan
This colorful and highly detailed woodcut map of Tokyo, which at the time was called Edo, shows streets, docks, waterways and bridges. It is centered on the Imperial Palace (Chiyoda Castle) and Asakusa Sensoji (Tokyo's oldest temple) and identifies numerous other buildings, temples, and shrines. Interestingly, this map appears to have no specific orientation. The map and text seem to radiate around the Imperial Palace. Even the trees appear upside-down or sideways when viewed from one angle. The map is adorned by two traditional sailing boats occupying the Sumida River.
Other Maps of Japan
7. 1871 R.H. McDonald's Map of Chicago with correct outline of the Great Fire
This reproduction shows the city of Chicago, with the red highlighted section being the area destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire. The fire burned for two days and destroyed thousands of buildings, killing an estimated 300 people and causing an estimated $200 million in damages. Following the blaze, reconstruction efforts began quickly and fueled economic and population growth.
Other Maps of Chicago
8. 1926 A Map of the Wonderous Isle of Manhattan
This bright and colorful panoramic map is filled with interesting and accurate details, all beautifully rendered, making it one of the best of its kind in the first quarter of the 20th century. Here we see 'Manhattan', an American Indian term meaning 'Island of Hills', which in earlier times had been a hunting and fishing reserve for indigenous peoples, transformed into a modern city replete with skyscrapers and already bearing a strong resemblance to the city of today. A playful border of vintage automobiles adds the the map's appeal.
Other Maps of New York
9. 1958 View of the Center of Paris taken from the air
This is a fine print reproduction of a bird's-eye-view poster of Paris created for the French Government Tourist Office in 1958. The entire center of the city is depicted in great detail, with the most important and well-known landmarks colored in red tones. The map provides an excellent guide for visiting the city, with both large and small streets having their names faithfully recorded. Seventeen bridges crossing the Sein are depicted, as well as the wide variety of boats that ply its waters. Major railway stations are drawn in detail, helping even the most hapless of travelers to orient themselves quickly and easily.
Other French Maps
10. 1968 London
For our final map, we've got a groovy psychedelic poster of 1968 London! This pictorial style map of London presents the city in an eastward orientation with the River Thames just right of center. Numerous bands are noted throughout, some of which include Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Cream, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Herman's Hermits, The Animals, and The Dave Clark 5. Landmarks of historical, cultural and artistic importance such as Apple Records, Sothebys, Buckingham Palace, Guild Hall, Savoy, and The Mad Hatter can also be found within this map.