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Why modern cartographers are so impressed with this 16th-century map

by Sarah Laskow on 16 Sep 2017
Gali's map of Tlacotalpa University of Seville
In February 1580, Francisco Gali was headed across Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. A mariner and cartographer who’d crossed the Pacific more than once, he had been living in “New Spain,” as Europeans called that part of the world, and was likely on another official mission that would take him to Asia.

To sail out, first he had to make his way down the country’s Atlantic coast to manage a narrower crossing to the Pacific. On his journey, he passed through the coastal towns of the east, where the mayors had a special request of him. Make us a map, they asked.

The Spanish crown had instructed every locality in its colonial lands to send home maps of their regions. This was a new endeavor in 16th-century mapmaking: Most maps of the “New World” focused on the coastline, and these local maps were the first detailed efforts to chart the interior. The ones Gali made were some of the best—among the very few equal to “the canons of the cartography that was being done in Europe at the time,” according to the University of Seville’s Manuel Morato. His map of the town of Tlacotalpa, in particular, is “a splendid example of early coastal mapping in America,” Morato says, and, as he writes in a paper published in The Cartographic Journal, it bears a “striking resemblance” to modern maps of the same place.



The maps that the Spanish government had requested were part of a larger survey project, the Relaciones Geográficas. Towns across the colonies received a 50-question form asking for details about local place names, geography, languages, resources, plants, religions, and more. Along with the survey, local leaders were expected to send back maps.

Read the full article here.

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