Connect with us


The Incredible Historical Map That Changed Cartography



View the full-size version of this graphic

Historical map of the world depicted as a circular planisphere crafted in the 1450s in Venice, Italy by Fra Mauro.

The Incredible Historical Map That Changed Cartography

This map is the latest in our Vintage Viz series, which presents historical visualizations along with the context needed to understand them.

In a one-paragraph story called On Exactitude in Science (Del Rigor en la Ciencia), Jorge Luis Borges imagined an empire where cartography had reached such an exact science that only a map on the same scale of the empire would suffice.

The Fra Mauro Mappa Mundi (c. 1450s), named for the lay Camaldolite monk and cartographer whose Venetian workshop created it, is not nearly as large, at a paltry 77 inches in diameter (196 cm). But its impact and significance as a bridge between Middle Age and Renaissance thought certainly rivaled Borges’ imagined map.

One of ‘the Wonders of Venice’

Venice was the undisputed commercial power in the Mediterranean, whose trade routes connected east and west, stretching to Flanders, London, Algeria, and beyond.

This network was protected by fleets of warships built at the famous Arsenale di Venezia, the largest production facility in the West, whose workforce of thousands of arsenalotti built ships on an assembly line, centuries before Henry Ford.

A stone Lion of Saint Mark from the pediment of the Arsenale di Venezia, holding a closed book in its in paws.

The lion of St Mark guards the land gate to the Arsenale di Venezia, except instead of the usual open bible in its hands offering peace, this book is closed, reflecting its martial purpose. Source: Wikipedia

The Mappa Mundi (literally “map of the world”) was considered one of the wonders of Venice with a reputation that reached the Holy Land. It is a circular planisphere drawn on four sheets of parchment, mounted onto three poplar panels and reinforced by vertical battens.

The map is painted in rich reds, golds, and blues; this last pigment was obtained from rare lapis lazuli, imported from mines in Afghanistan. At its corners are four spheres showing the celestial and sublunar worlds, the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water), and an illumination of the Garden of Eden by Leonardo Bellini (active 1443-1490).

Japan (on the left edge, called the Isola de Cimpagu) appears here for the first time in a Western map. And contradicting Ptolemaic tradition, it also shows that it was possible to circumnavigate Africa, presaging the first European journey around the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488.

NASA called the historical map “stunning” in its accuracy.

A Historical Map Between Two Worlds

Medieval maps, like the Hereford Mappa Mundi (c. 1300), were usually oriented with east at the top, because that’s where the Garden of Eden was thought to be. Fra Mauro, however, chose to orient his to the south, perhaps following Muslim geographers such as Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Idrisi.

Significantly, the Garden of Eden is placed outside of geographic space and Jerusalem is no longer at the center, though it is still marked by a windrose. The nearly 3,000 place names and descriptions are written in the Venetian vernacular, rather than Latin.

At the same time, as much as Fra Mauro’s map is a departure from the past, it also retains traces of a medieval Christian worldview. For example, included on the map are the Kingdom of the Magi, the Kingdom of Prester John, and the Tomb of Adam.

T and O style mappa mundi

Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae (c. 600–625). Source: Wikipedia

The circular planisphere also follows the medieval T-O schema, first described by Isidore of Seville, with Asia occupying the top half of the circle, and Europe and Africa each occupying the bottom two quarters (Fra Mauro turns the ‘T’ on its side, to reflect a southern orientation). Around the circle, are many islands, beyond which is the “dark sea” where only shipwreck and misfortune await.

Fra Mauro’s Legacy

Fra Mauro died some time before 20 October 1459, and unfortunately his contributions fell into obscurity soon thereafter; until 1748, it was believed that the Mappa Mundi was a copy of a lost map by Marco Polo.

In 1811, the original was moved from Fra Mauro’s monastery of San Michele to the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, following the suppression of religious orders in the Napoleonic era, where it can be viewed today.

Two digital editions have also been produced by the Museo Galileo and the Engineering Historical Memory project, where readers can get a glimpse into a fascinating piece of cartographic history.

Click for Comments


Map: The World’s Oldest and Youngest Countries, by Median Age

The median age is a single indicator of the age distribution of a population, useful for policy planning for the world’s oldest and youngest countries.



A cropped map of the world’s oldest and youngest countries by median age, per 2024 estimates.

Mapped: The World’s Oldest and Youngest Countries

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

We visualize the world’s oldest and youngest countries by median age, based on 2024 estimates from the CIA World Factbook.

ℹ️ The median age is a single indicator of the age distribution of a population—where half the population is older and half is younger than the listed age.

It can help government and private companies plan for age-specific demand for goods and services from the resident population.

Ranked: Countries by Median Age in 2024

Monaco and Japan—two countries with high life expectancies and low birth rates—have some of the highest median ages (50+) in the world.

A high median age is indicative of an aging population. Without policy support, this can lead to economic ramifications.

Here are the median ages of 200+ countries and territories in the world.

RankCountry/TerritoryMedian Age
1🇲🇨 Monaco57
2🇵🇲 Saint Pierre & Miquelon51
3🇯🇵 Japan50
4🇦🇩 Andorra49
5🇮🇹 Italy48
6🇧🇱 Saint Barthelemy47
7🇭🇰 Hong Kong47
8🇪🇸 Spain47
9🇩🇪 Germany47
10🇬🇷 Greece47
11🇵🇹 Portugal46
12🇸🇮 Slovenia46
13🇵🇷 Puerto Rico46
14🇸🇲 San Marino46
15🇰🇷 South Korea46
16🇷🇴 Romania46
17🇱🇻 Latvia46
18🇱🇹 Lithuania45
19🇧🇬 Bulgaria45
20🇭🇷 Croatia45
21🇸🇭 Saint Helena45
22🇪🇪 Estonia45
23🇬🇬 Guernsey45
24🇦🇹 Austria45
25🇺🇦 Ukraine45
26🇮🇲 Isle of Man45
27🇭🇺 Hungary45
28🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina45
29🇹🇼 Taiwan45
30🇱🇮 Liechtenstein44
31🇨🇿 Czechia44
32🇨🇭 Switzerland44
33🇷🇸 Serbia44
34🇧🇲 Bermuda44
35🇲🇹 Malta44
36🇫🇮 Finland43
37🇻🇮 Virgin Islands43
38🇵🇱 Poland43
39🇸🇰 Slovakia43
40🇨🇦 Canada43
41🇫🇷 France43
42🇨🇺 Cuba43
43🇲🇴 Macau43
44🇳🇱 Netherlands42
45🇩🇰 Denmark42
46🇧🇾 Belarus42
47🇧🇪 Belgium42
48🇷🇺 Russia42
49🇹🇭 Thailand42
50🇧🇧 Barbados41
51🇰🇾 Cayman Islands41
52🇸🇪 Sweden41
53🇨🇰 Cook Islands41
54🇲🇪 Montenegro41
55🇸🇽 Sint Maarten41
56🇦🇼 Aruba41
57🇳🇴 Norway41
58🇬🇧 UK41
59🇲🇰 North Macedonia41
60🇮🇪 Ireland40
61🇨🇳 China40
62🇨🇨 Cocos (Keeling) Islands40
63🇲🇩 Moldova40
64🇱🇺 Luxembourg40
65🇱🇨 Saint Lucia40
66🇲🇺 Mauritius40
67🇨🇾 Cyprus40
68🇸🇬 Singapore39
69🇺🇸 U.S.39
70🇦🇲 Armenia39
71🇸🇨 Seychelles39
72🇰🇳 Saint Kitts & Nevis39
73🇹🇹 Trinidad & Tobago39
74🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands39
75🇬🇪 Georgia38
76🇯🇪 Jersey38
77🇦🇺 Australia38
78🇨🇽 Christmas Island38
79🇮🇸 Iceland38
80🇳🇿 New Zealand38
81🇨🇼 Curacao38
82🇻🇨 Saint Vincent & the Grenadines38
83🇦🇮 Anguilla37
84🇩🇲 Dominica37
85🇨🇱 Chile37
86🇫🇴 Faroe Islands37
87🇲🇸 Montserrat37
88🇬🇮 Gibraltar37
89🇺🇾 Uruguay37
90🇱🇧 Lebanon36
91🇦🇱 Albania36
92🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna36
93🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands36
94🇰🇵 North Korea36
95🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates36
96🇨🇷 Costa Rica36
97🇬🇩 Grenada35
98🇵🇫 French Polynesia35
99🇵🇼 Palau35
100🇬🇱 Greenland35
101🇧🇷 Brazil35
102🇹🇳 Tunisia34
103🇳🇨 New Caledonia34
104🇦🇿 Azerbaijan34
105🇶🇦 Qatar34
106🇲🇫 Saint Martin34
107🇱🇰 Sri Lanka34
108🇹🇷 Türkiye34
109🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda34
110🇮🇷 Iran34
111🇧🇭 Bahrain33
112🇦🇷 Argentina33
113🇻🇳 Vietnam33
114🇨🇴 Colombia33
115🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia32
116🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands32
117🇧🇳 Brunei32
118🇸🇷 Suriname32
119🇽🇰 Kosovo32
120🇲🇻 Maldives32
121🇰🇿 Kazakhstan32
122🇲🇾 Malaysia32
123🇵🇾 Paraguay32
124🇫🇯 Fiji32
125🇮🇩 Indonesia32
126🇲🇳 Mongolia32
127🇵🇦 Panama32
128🇹🇲 Turkmenistan31
129🇻🇪 Venezuela31
130🇯🇲 Jamaica31
131🇲🇲 Burma31
132🇲🇽 Mexico31
133🇧🇸 Bahamas31
134🇧🇹 Bhutan31
135🇲🇦 Morocco31
136🇿🇦 South Africa30
137🇬🇺 Guam30
138🇰🇼 Kuwait30
139🇵🇪 Peru30
140🇮🇱 Israel30
141🇦🇸 American Samoa30
142🇮🇳 India30
143🇸🇻 El Salvador30
144🇧🇩 Bangladesh30
145🇩🇴 Dominican Republic29
146🇩🇿 Algeria29
147🇳🇮 Nicaragua29
148🇺🇿 Uzbekistan29
149🇨🇻 Cabo Verde29
150🇬🇾 Guyana28
151🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan28
152🇫🇲 Micronesia, Federated States of28
153🇪🇨 Ecuador28
154🇰🇭 Cambodia28
155🇹🇻 Tuvalu28
156🇳🇷 Nauru28
157🇳🇵 Nepal28
158🇼🇸 Samoa27
159🇴🇲 Oman27
160🇰🇮 Kiribati27
161🇧🇼 Botswana27
162🇧🇿 Belize27
163🇧🇴 Bolivia27
164🇩🇯 Djibouti26
165🇱🇾 Libya26
166🇹🇴 Tonga26
167🇵🇭 Philippines26
168🇭🇳 Honduras26
169🇲🇭 Marshall Islands26
170🇱🇦 Laos25
171🇸🇧 Solomon Islands25
172🇯🇴 Jordan25
173🇭🇹 Haiti25
174🇬🇹 Guatemala25
175🇸🇿 Eswatini25
176🇻🇺 Vanuatu25
177🇪🇬 Egypt24
178🇸🇾 Syria24
179🇱🇸 Lesotho24
180🇵🇰 Pakistan23
181🇹🇯 Tajikistan23
182🇳🇦 Namibia23
183🇰🇲 Comoros23
184🇮🇶 Iraq22
185🇲🇷 Mauritania22
186🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea22
187🇬🇦 Gabon22
188🇾🇪 Yemen22
189🇵🇸 West Bank22
190🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea22
191🇬🇭 Ghana21
192🇪🇷 Eritrea21
193🇲🇬 Madagascar21
194🇿🇼 Zimbabwe21
195🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire21
196🇰🇪 Kenya21
197🇸🇹 Sao Tome & Principe21
198🇷🇼 Rwanda21
199🇹🇬 Togo21
200🇨🇬 Congo21
201🇹🇱 Timor-Leste21
202🇨🇫 Central African Republic20
203🇪🇹 Ethiopia20
204🇲🇼 Malawi20
205🇬🇲 Gambia20
206🇦🇫 Afghanistan20
207🇱🇷 Liberia20
208🇵🇸 Gaza20
209🇬🇳 Guinea19
210🇸🇱 Sierra Leone19
211🇳🇬 Nigeria19
212🇸🇩 Sudan19
213🇸🇳 Senegal19
214🇹🇿 Tanzania19
215🇸🇴 Somalia19
216🇨🇲 Cameroon19
217🇸🇸 South Sudan19
218🇧🇫 Burkina Faso19
219🇿🇲 Zambia18
220🇧🇮 Burundi18
221🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau18
222🇲🇿 Mozambique17
223🇧🇯 Benin17
224🇨🇩 DRC17
225🇹🇩 Chad17
226🇲🇱 Mali16
227🇦🇴 Angola16
228🇺🇬 Uganda16
229🇳🇪 Niger15

Note: Figures rounded.

Meanwhile, the presence of six European nations on the oldest countries list is a quick insight into the continent’s changing demographic. The UN estimates that one in four Europeans are currently aged 60 and over.

Conversely, many countries in Africa have low life expectancies and high birth rates. This results in the opposite phenomenon: lower median ages.

A low median age also has its own concerns. A higher proportion of children and adolescents can strain the education infrastructure. Without enough job growth, underemployment and unemployment can rise.

However, if managed well, low median ages can lead to a demographic dividend, where the workforce temporarily grows faster than the dependent population, increasing per capita income.

Continue Reading