MapCarte 350/365: World islands by Nakheel Properties, 2003

MapCarte350_worldmap1In possibly the greatest example of cartographic simulacrum, the World Islands project is both befuddling and impressive at the same time. The idea to create a completely artificial archipelago of small islands in the shape of a world map might seem extravagant but then why not? In the search for cartographic curiosities it’s relatively easy to find maps that hold certain titles (oldest, largest etc) but constructing something on an altogether grander scale was always going to take a special place. That place, of course, is Dubai and a project originally conceived by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

In design terms it’s the scale and imagination of the project that impresses. The project to create some 300 or more islands by dredging sand began in 2003. It has yet to be completed though most of the islands have been sold to private contractors ahead of development. Only two of the islands have been developed thus far but the world’s richest people and organisations always need frivolous reasons to spend money and what better than a ‘country’ all of their own in World Islands.

MapCarte350_worldmap2The archipalago measures some 9km by 6km and the islands range from 14,000 to 42,000 sq metres. Distances between the islands averages 100m and the shorelines total approximately 232km in length. Dredging for the islands was completed in 2008 and in early 2012 the ‘Lebanon’ island opened as a commercial island for private corporate events and public parties with the Royal Island Beach Club. The project is really quite astonishing and shows how vital the shape of the countries on our planet really are for all manner of artistic projects. They inspire so much beyond making maps.

What could be better than partying on a map of the world on the world?

MapCarte 337/365: A New and Enlarged Description of the Earth by Gerardus Mercator, 1569

MapCarte337_mercatorThere’s arguably no more widely known figure in historical cartography than Mercator. His legacy has been the mathematical basis and projection developed and first used in his map of 1569. The map’s content at the time was rich and presented as complete a knowledge of the Earth as had been seen before. The projection, though, surpasses the content and is still the basis of many maps and, in particular, navigational charts to this day. The reason is simple – the Mercator projection allows one to plot straight lines of constant bearing (rhumb lines) which makes it a perfect map to support navigation.


The map was produced across 18 separate sheets measuring a total of 202cm wide by 124cm tall. It was compiled from a range of sources including previous maps made by other cartographers, Mercator himself and portolan charts by Portuguese and Spanish sailors. These charts provided Mercator with the detail of coastlines that made this new projection so useful for supporting navigation. It was the first time the detail and projection had been used combined. The map is littered with cartouches and other marginalia including descriptions of the science of measurement that forms the basis of the map. In one such legend┬áMercator states that his first priority is “to spread on a plane the surface of the sphere in such a way that the positions of places shall correspond on all sides with each other, both in so far as true direction and distance are concerned and as correct longitudes and latitudes.”

A remarkable map of the time and one that continues to be used, and it has to be said mis-used, to the present.

MapCarte 241/365: The International Map of the World by Albrecht Penck, 1891



One of the problems of having an unequally shaped planet, divided by both physical and human borders, for cartographers is how to map it consistently. Individuals, nations and organisations have prepared thousands of different ways of maping based on different projections, datums and coordinate systems. That makes it difficult when moving across the planet and wanting to use a uniform set of mid-large scale maps.

German geographer Albrecht Penck was a proponent of the need for consistent and accurate maps that covered the entire planet. In 1891 he proposed a worldwide system of maps. The International Map of the World would consist of 2,500 maps, each at 1:1,000,000 and representing 4 degrees of latitude and 6 degrees of longitude. Perfect! His schema can be seen in the map above.

In 1913, Penck’s idea came to fruition at a conference to establish standards and symbology. Decisions were taken on use of the Roman alphabet, colours, linework and topographic representation. Unfortunately the idea never really took off despite the ingenious design. With each country responsible for its own mapping it was impossible to coordinate or expect the requisite surveys to be undertaken. By 1914 only 8 maps had been produced following the schema. By 1945 405 sheets had been produced but only half followed the schema and despite being an early adopter, the United States soon decided to go it alone.

The following examples from Bartholomews shows their 1910 proof of the concept that they produced under direction from the International Map Committee. The map sheet specifications and legends are included as a template.

MapCarte241_penckMapCarte241_penck_detailCartography can be many things to many people. This project was designed to be educational, edifying and philanthropic – a consistent international map of the world for the good of humanity. History shows us it never materialised.