September 20, 2020

The history that maps guard | Culture

San Isidoro de Sevilla collected in his work Etymologies the first known map of T in O, a theological vision of the world represented in the form of these letters. This book, an example of his vast knowledge, led the polymath to become the patron of geographical sciences, hence his figure receives visitors at the National Geographic Institute (IGN), in Madrid. The institution, which turns 150 in 2020, custody a valuable cartographic file where incunable maps, atlases and handwritten documents keep geographical knowledge throughout history.

After San Isidoro a staircase descends to the IGN archives. Marcos Francisco Pavo, head of the Area of ​​the Central Registry of Cartography, leads the way to the basement. He arrived in office in 2014 and since then he has managed to acquire some of the most valuable maps of the agency. The mysticism that is generated in the descent, chatting about these new relics, scrolls and gold leaf adorning miniatures, vanishes before a bland room. All the magic of the library is stored inside the large metal filing cabinets that occupy most of the space. When Turkey slides one of the drawers of the planetarium – that's what he calls it – it is when there is admiration for the pieces. Some represent Europe upon completion of the first circumnavigation in 1522; others, the vision of Spain at the beginning of the 16th century determined by the Ptolemaic conception.

It is not clear how the IGN file began to be nurtured. Turkey accuses him of donations and some purchases, but when the Institute started, the origin of the materials was not documented. Today the searches for parts are mostly done through the Internet, although the deal is closed in person. Turkey swarms the net himself in search of cartographic jewels. Private and antique collections are the main sellers. "I am not scrupulous, as long as its origin is legal, I buy anywhere," he explains. Although the market is small – it is not uncommon for buyers and sellers to recur repeatedly in transactions – it is very active. The expert remembers that the important thing for a good collection "is not the quantity, but the quality".

One of the latest acquisitions is a triad of which the area manager feels especially satisfied. It highlights a Ptolemaic map showing the south of Spain and the Balearic Islands published in 1482. What is striking is Cádiz, detached from the Iberian Peninsula. In the purchase of the three pieces have invested 15,000 euros. “It may seem like a lot, but it isn't; In addition, they are maps that go to the state heritage, ”recalls Pavo. Thanks to his efforts, the archive has been enriched with curious pieces like this and also with some incunabula, something he is proud of: "It is not the same to say that your collection starts before or after 1500, even if it is only a year apart, it is important." While chatting manipulate the letters " as a midwife to newborns. ”

Prima Affrice Tabula (1482), by Nicolaus Germanus.

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Prima Affrice Tabula (1482), by Nicolaus Germanus.

As with first-time parents, any layman would be scared to see him. It is justified: “The role of the XV and XVI endures a lot and, contrary to what people think, its durability is greater than in subsequent maps because, especially after the eighteenth century, bleaching agents and other chemicals are used in the paper and that causes them to be damaged before. ”

Bring the maps to light so that the watermarks, the pulp fibers of the paper or parchment and the indentations of the printing plates become visible. Under his expert eyes that gesture is enough to know what type of plate – wood or metal – was used for engraving, if it had much or little use or if the letter is a fake. "Some have their grace," warns Turkey. The IGN bought a map years ago knowing this circumstance because it is a modern pastiche made from a valuable original dated 1535 or 1541.

150 years

The history that maps guard

The IGN was born in 1870 with the task of determining “the shape and dimensions of the Earth, geodetic triangulations of various orders, precision leveling, topographic triangulation, topography of the map and cadastre, and determination and conservation of international types of weights and measurements". Its current activities go beyond and has functions as relevant as surveillance linked to seismic and volcanic information or to the planning and scientific exploitation of the country's astronomical infrastructures.

The Institute makes available all the cartographic images of its collection and the information about the archive on its website. Turkey affects the public service and dissemination with which they are committed: "Anyone can download the maps they want, because everything we acquire belongs to everyone."

A puzzle of a century

The birth of the IGN was determined by the need to prepare a cadastre and the topographic map of Spain, a company that had already started in other European countries. In the basement of the building hundreds of manuscript files accumulate in a second file that is under the supervision of Ángela Ruiz. Before putting his hand on one of them, he puts on white gloves. It is not a conservation measure, but also protection for your skin. Stale air accounts for the amount of bacteria and fungi that accumulate on old paper, harmful to the skin and respiratory system.

Each of the booklets details the boundaries of a municipality, the unit of work for technicians. Each milestone, river and road is clearly located in the presence of mayors involved in the partition. "This is still the official document to be consulted when you have doubts about where a municipality ends or begins," Ruiz emphasizes before a handmade drawing in which lines and points mark the borders of two towns in Madrid. This is the sketch that always accompanies the descriptions.

It was in the capital where this titanic effort began that divided Spain into 1100 grids to send the surveyors of the IGN to determine what was in each of them. Ruiz details that in the city there was already a meeting that had begun the cartographic works before the birth of the Institute and that for that reason it was easy to start in Madrid. "Then we continued with Andalusia, because it was where there were more frauds – and gestures a grimace in the hope of not offending – and then it went up," he deepens.

Puzzle size has just been completed a century after it began. During that time, the field technique underwent changes. From classical topography, where sight was the main tool, it was passed to aerial photos with binocular instruments. Then the digital image arrived and finally a mathematical program is used today that projects the measurement data dictated to it in a space simulation.

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