Slovenians can be proud of rich cartographic heritage, says Geographical Museum head

Ljubljana, 13 December - Old maps, often veritable works of art, are a kind of time capsules. They can reveal a lot about society and the time when they were made. Slovenians can be proud of their cartographic heritage, now presented in a book titled Cartographic Treasures of Slovenian Territory, according to Primož Gašperič, the head of the Geographical Museum.

Nowadays, maps are time capsules of sorts helping to understand history, geography, political reality and art. The maps of the Slovenian territory reflect the time and the circumstances in which they were made, and their authors offered an insight into the Slovenian territory, the book's authors say. Cartographic Treasures of Slovenian Land was published this year by the publisher Založba ZRC and co-published by the National and University Library (NUK).

There is every reason for Slovenians to be proud of their cartographic heritage, which is kept by numerous museums, archives, libraries, institutes, faculties and individuals, said Gašperič, one of the book's authors. The Geographical Museum of the Anton Melik Geographical Institute, headed by Gašperič, focuses on preserving and studying cartographic materials.

Many old maps could be considered works of art in many ways. Maps made before the late 18th century are rich in ornaments, paintings and all kinds of additions that were particularly eye-catching in the Baroque and Rococo periods. Since these maps were so arresting, wealthier citizens used them as decorations.

History of cartography development

The origins of cartography can be traced back to prehistory, Gašperič said, adding that the beginnings of cartographic science went back to the era of the ancient Greeks. Following the Middle Ages, when many skills were lost, Europe saw a gradual revival of cartography. The practice of drawing maps started thriving in the Early Modern Period, from the 15th century on, a period famous for numerous discoveries and the development of cartographic and printing science.

What could be considered a proper map first emerged in the 19th century when countries introduced a single metric system, set down ways and rules for cartographic depictions, and started measuring an increasingly large amount of data, presenting it in ever greater detail.

When it comes to older maps, production standards were prescribed. Authors were hence free to select the type and manner of depicting information, Gašperič explained. It was often the case that the cartographer was not familiar with the area they were drawing, which is why they relied on made-up cartographic elements or painted images, depictions of people, plants or even mythological creatures.

Moreover, cartographic facts were meshed with information and symbols conveying, among other things, economic or political power of cartography patrons.

Representations of the Slovenian territory

The Slovenian territory was depicted on very old maps, but only as a part thereof. It was represented on a map of the Roman road network called Tabula Peutingeriana. The first more detailed cartographic works of what is now Slovenia were made from the 16th century on. The oldest detailed depiction of a part of Slovenian territory is the 1525 Pietro Coppo's map, which shows the present-day Slovenia, Istria and Dalmatia.

One of the most beautiful drawings of Slovenian territory, in terms of art and cartography, is a map of Carniola by Janez Dizma Florjančič, made in 1744. Described by Gašperič as "a monumental work from all perspectives", both in form and content, the map ranks among the greatest cartographic feats of the 18th century. It measures almost two times two metres and depicts the area extremely accurately for the time. The special feature of the map is its scale, a vista and map of Ljubljana, and numerous additional paintings portraying the land's special features.

In the wake of the national revival in the second half of the 19th century, the first maps of the Slovenian ethnic area were drawn. The first to include the entire ethnic area of Slovenians as well as place names solely in the Slovenian language was Peter Kozler's map, completed at the end of 1852 and marked with the year of 1853. The map caused a lot of trouble for Kozler with the authorities, who were not in favour of his political message. It was not released until 1861.

Janez Dizma Florjančič's map of Carniola from 1744, deemed one of the most beautiful depictions of the Slovenian territory
Photo: Geographical Museum archive

Monograph Cartographic Treasures of Slovenian Territory

Researchers from the Anton Melik Geographical Institute and an expert from the NUK cartography department presented the main examples of cartographic depictions of Slovenian land in a monograph titled Cartographic Treasures of Slovenian Territory.

The textual part focuses on the history of Europe's cartography until the end of the 19th century, cartographic depictions of Slovenian land before the start of the 20th century, and maps as cultural heritage. The pictorial part features a chronological display of more important historical maps of Slovenian territory. Gašperič noted that one of the advantages of the book was its large format, which makes it easier for the readers to read the maps.

The monograph aims to present the beauty and importance of rich Slovenian cartography heritage to the widest possible audience, which is why it is bilingual, written in both Slovenian and English.