Old Maps Online

Looking at old maps—and I mean really old—is often a rich source of ideas, historical perspectives, and even discoveries. This is a great free place to start.

You can do searches directly with keywords and specifics, but you’ll likely appreciate its well-designed, easy-to-use browsing interface. You’ll first see a current map (likely starting with where you’re actually physically located). Navigate to wherever in the world you’re interested in seeing depicted in an old map; you can even zoom in and out and get very specific or broad. Mark off the geo area you want, and thumbnails/links to old maps will appear on the margin. That’s it!

Unless you’re some kind of cartography enthusiast, chances are you’ll be surprised with what it finds and what you may learn. There are even obscure ones in there.

Browsing through any maps of Manila, Philippines, for instance, it found me a 1764 map titled A plan of the reduction of Manila and Cavita, by the British Fleet and Army. Off the bat, this map presents some intriguing curiosities. For one, Manila’s neighboring province is called Cavite now (kah-vee-teh); first time I’ve seen it as Cavita. And second, the Philippines was a Spanish colony for hundreds of years (hence the name, the anglicized Spanish Filipinas). So what the heck were the Brits doing producing this map back in 1764? Most actually don’t know that for a very brief 20 months, the British occupied Manila and Cavite, from 1762-64. I don’t even remember them teaching that back in school—I just read a lot—but it’s the kind of thing that you can stumble upon poking around old maps.

Really cool stuff!

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