Ger­many 1500

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

This grubby and unas­sum­ing piece of pa­per con­tains one of the great­est land­marks in the his­tory of car­tog­ra­phy. How de­cep­tive ap­pear­ances can be. It is the first printed road map and the ear­li­est map pro­duced specif­i­cally for trav­ellers. Pub­lished in Nuremberg in 1500 by Erhard Et­zlaub (c.1455–1532), the south-ori­ented map shows a por­tion of Europe be­tween Poland and eastern France, and Scot­land and south­ern Italy. Hun­dreds of towns are marked along with rivers, moun­tain ranges and – key to the map – a se­ries of dot­ted lines which con­verge on Rome. All roads lead to the Eter­nal City, the cen­tre of Chris­tian­ity in Europe and a place of pil­grim­age. This map was made for the thou­sands of mainly north­ern Eu­ro­peans who planned to travel to Rome to mark the ju­bilee year of 1500, one and a half thou­sand years af­ter the birth of Christ. Its ti­tle is Das ist der Rom Weg von Meylen zu Meylen (‘This is the way to Rome from mile to mile’).

The map would have pro­vided in­spired guid­ance for the large num­bers of peo­ple trav­el­ling be­yond their lo­cal­i­ties, many surely for the first time. To be­gin with, the eight dot­ted routes lead­ing from north­ern cities do not merely mark the way. Each dot is placed one Ger­man mile apart (around seven and a half kilo­me­tres) so that pil­grims would know how far they had trav­elled and how far they had to go. Ad­di­tion­ally, marks in the map’s left and right bor­ders give the num­ber of day­light hours avail­able dur­ing the long­est day at each lat­i­tude, which would have helped with plan­ning and in­di­cated when it was time to find some­where to sleep. At the bot­tom of the map is a cir­cu­lar di­a­gram which the trav­eller could align with a com­pass in or­der to help them de­cide which di­rec­tion to take. All of this was ex­plained by Et­zlaub in clear ver­nac­u­lar Ger­man text.

Et­zlaub was a sci­en­tific in­stru­ment maker based in one of the cen­tres of Re­nais­sance sci­ence. His ex­per­tise is ev­i­dent from his map, yet it also dis­played his keen busi­ness acu­men. The map was surely a phe­nom­e­nal best­seller, and we know this de­spite the fact that we know of only ten ex­am­ples to­day. Through close in­spec­tion of these ex­am­ples, for­mer British Li­brary map li­brar­ian Tony Camp­bell found mi­nor but mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ences be­tween them. He con­cluded that this must have oc­curred through the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the wood­block used to print them, which could only have been caused by ex­ten­sive and re­peated use. You’d have to do a lot of print­ing to wear down a piece of wood. The Rom Weg must once have been as com­mon as an AA route guide.

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