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Map collection „Livoniae Descriptio“ published by National Library of Estonia

29. May 2024

At the beginning of May, the National Library of Estonia presented the collection “Livoniae Descriptio. Estonia and Livonia on old maps”, compiled by the Estonian cartographer Tõnu Raid and the National Library’s Map Librarian Tiina Kruup. This book in Estonian and English complements the map album by Tõnu Raid “Tabula Livoniae” (Picture of Livonia), published in 2002, the purpose of which was to introduce to the Estonian reader, for the first time, the oldest maps related to Estonia and depicting Estonia.

The new edition also has a new title – Livoniae Descriptio (Description of Livonia), because the texts are more thorough, the period of time covered is longer, rare manuscripts from the Vatican, Sweden, Russia and other countries as well as from our own Estonian collections have been added. In addition to the selection of historical maps, the updated and extended publication also offers helpful additional materials for anyone interested in maps or the history of cartography. The foreword was written by Marek Tamm, cultural historian and Professor of Tallinn University.

The place names related to Estonia appeared on maps made in Europe from the end of the 13th century. Manuscript and printed maps depicting the areas of Estonia and Latvia (jointly called Livonia) have been compiled in all the important cartographic centres of their time and also on the initiative of the central authorities that were currently in force in Estonia. The collection brings together 103 maps published until 1919, when probably the first map of Estonia drawn in the Republic of Estonia was printed.

The maps are accompanied by texts that help to create a context or draw attention to distinctive details. Map lovers of all ages can delve into the exciting world of maps with the help of a brief introduction to the history of world cartography and the chapter “What to read on the map” with numerous illustrations – it summarises, for the first time in Estonian, how maps were drawn in the past, what parts a map consists of and why and how different details have changed over time. The maps, especially the old ones, seem attractive to people, but there is little experience what details to observe or why they look so strange compared to the modern ones. When studying an old map, you need to change the perspective and look at it through the eyes of its user or drawer from centuries ago, taking account of the average level of education, general knowledge of the world, etc. – considering all this, they are the top achievements of their time and all the unfamiliar details actually carry very meaningful messages.

Photo gallery from the book presentation