Historical Maps

From the 16th century, the historical cartography of Brazil begins with the first representations that are part of the planispheres or maps of the Americas in editions of Ptolemy’s Geography and works by travellers.

These representations of Brazil have illustrations of indigenous scenes, fauna and vegetation, information obtained, at first, through Américo Vespúcio, who accompanied the first Portuguese expeditions to the Brazilian territory, and, later, through travellers and navigators.

The cartography of this period also records the first names of the country:

  • Terra de Santa Cruz
  • Terra Incógnita
  • Antropófagos
  • Terra dos Papagaios
  • Brasil

These maps were produced by cartographers such as Ruysch, Waldseemüller, Ortelius, Ruscelli, Forlani, Gastaldi and Hulsius. Still in the 16th century, the concern with the French attacks on the Brazilian coast began.

Examples of these episodes can be found in Gastaldi’s maps, exposing the barter between the French navigators and the Brazilian natives, and in the works of the religious and cosmographer André Thevet, who accompanied Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon during the time he was in Rio de Janeiro, with the foundation of the French Antarctic colony.

Between 1580 and 1640, Portugal was part of the Iberian Union, under the Filipino dynasty.

Thus, all the Portuguese colonies also belonged to the Spanish Crown, which favoured the presence of the French, English and Dutch on the northern and north-eastern coast of Brazil.

To defend the Iberian domains in America, the Philippine Crown allowed the Luso-Brazilians to go beyond the limits established by the Treaty of Tordesillas, advancing towards the Amazon delta.

These conquests are recorded in the 17th century Portuguese cartography, by the notable astronomers Cochado and Albernaz I, showing the forts built and the cities founded, as well as the English and Dutch fortifications destroyed.

Still referring to the 17th century, the Portuguese handwritten cartography is displayed, with the charts of Antônio Vicente Cochado, Antônio Sanches, João Teixeira Albernaz I and his grandson João Albernaz II.

All maps detail toponyms richly located on the coast, from Belém to the Rio da Prata.

The map of Brazil by Albernaz II (1666) deserves, however, to be highlighted because, besides having, like the others, a large quantity of toponyms on the Brazilian coast, it highlights the city of São Paulo and, in the south of the territory, the Jesuit missions.

I could not fail to show the beautiful Dutch cartography of north-eastern Brazil, between 1624-1654.

The map, Perfect Caerte der Gelegentheyt van Olinda de Pharnambuco Maurits-stadt ende t’Reciffo and made by Cornelis Golijath, is considered the best cartographic production under Dutch rule in north-eastern Brazil.

In the 18th century, there is a sketch about the Luso-Brazilian explorations of the Brazilian interior, which is part of the set “Cartas Sertanistas” (Letters from the Backlands) (Cortesão, 1957-1971).

These sketches, existing in the National Library, indicate Jesuit missions destroyed by sertanistas and/or bandeirantes and roads in search of mineral wealth in the interior of Brazil.

Still from the 18th century, we also find French cartography, which became predominant in that period with the foundation of the Royal Academy of Sciences by Colbert and the construction of the astronomical observatory in Paris.

Among the cartographers chosen were Guillaume de L’Isle and Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville, author of one of the best eighteenth-century charts representing South America.

The notoriety of Guillaume de L’Isle is due to the fact that he observed errors of the Portuguese in the calculations of the longitudes of Brazil.

A member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of France, Guillaume de L’Isle, in 1720, noted that the Portuguese calculations exceeded the Lusitanian domains in South America according to the Treaty of Tordesillas.

As is well known, the Iberian Crowns sought a solution to the question of the boundaries of their domains in South America.

The result of these negotiations was the Treaty of Madrid, signed in January 1750.

One of the original copies of the Map of the Cortes, the cartographic document that served as the basis for the treaty, is part of the exhibition.

Thus, mixed commissions were formed to survey and demarcate the borders of the northern and southern regions in South America. Portugal and Spain hired specialists (cosmographers, astronomers, military and other specialists) from various European nations to carry out these tasks.

From these works, a significant amount of cartographic documents (maps, views, reports, diaries) were produced.

The exhibition displays part of this collection produced by the members of these mixed commissions on the Portuguese side.

The 19th century begins with two leaves from the handwritten atlas Guia dos Caminhantes, made by Anastácio de Santana, in Salvador (1817).

The first, the title page, contains geographical data and a panoramic view of the city of Salvador.

The second is a map of Brazil with the north facing the right bank. Besides being didactic, this atlas represents one of the first initiatives in the mapping of Brazil.

In this period, cartographic production increases. Maps of provinces and of the national territory, topographic plans, hydrographic surveys of the rivers, of the Amazon and Prata basins and frontier charts are composed.

In the twentieth century, after resolving several border issues over four centuries, and with the national territory already configured, the route ends with the Carta geographica do Brasil (Geographic Chart of Brazil), on the scale 1:7,500,000, published by the Engineering Club in 1922, in commemoration of the centenary of Brazil’s Independence.

This map is the reduction of the letter of Brazil in the International Letter of the World to the Millionth, made according to international standards established at the International Congress of Geography in Paris in 1913.

Historical maps of Brazil

Historical maps of Brazil are valuable documents that illustrate the territorial, political, and economic evolution of the country over the centuries. They reflect the geographic transformations from the colonial period to independence and the formation of the Republic.

Here are some of the most significant historical maps of Brazil

1. Juan de la Cosa’s Map (1500)

  • Description: One of the first maps to depict the Americas, created by the Spanish navigator Juan de la Cosa, who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his voyages.
  • Importance: Marks the beginning of the cartography of the New World and includes the northeast coast of Brazil, discovered in 1500.

2. Letter of Pero Vaz de Caminha (1500)

  • Description: Although not a map, Pero Vaz de Caminha’s letter to the King of Portugal describes the discovery of Brazil by Pedro Álvares Cabral.
  • Importance: Provides detailed information about the Brazilian coast and the first contacts with indigenous peoples.

3. Cantino Planisphere (1502)

  • Description: One of the earliest maps to clearly show the Brazilian coast, drawn from Portuguese explorations.
  • Importance: Helps understand the initial European perception of the newly discovered land and their first attempts at mapping the coast.

4. Lopo Homem’s Map (1519)

  • Description: Part of the Miller Atlas, this map details the Brazilian coast and is considered one of the best maps of its time.
  • Importance: Shows the Brazilian coast with great accuracy for the early 16th century, highlighting the advancement of Portuguese cartography.

5. Mercator’s World Map (1569)

  • Description: Created by Gerardus Mercator, this map is famous for introducing the cylindrical projection, which is still widely used.
  • Importance: Although a world map, it includes a significant depiction of Brazil, influencing future cartography.

6. João Teixeira Albernaz I’s Map (1640)

  • Description: Shows the Portuguese possessions in Brazil and is detailed regarding the hereditary captaincies.
  • Importance: Reflects the administrative and territorial division of colonial Brazil, showing the captaincies and the exploration of the coast and interior.

7. Guillaume Delisle’s Map (1703)

  • Description: A detailed map of Brazil created by the French cartographer Guillaume Delisle.
  • Importance: Widely used in Europe, it helped spread a more precise knowledge of Brazilian lands.

8. Map of the Hereditary Captaincies (18th century)

  • Description: Shows the division of Brazil into hereditary captaincies as originally established by the Portuguese crown.
  • Importance: Essential for understanding the initial territorial organization of Brazil and the foundations of colonization.

9. Map of the Treaty of Madrid (1750)

  • Description: Represents the territorial changes following the Treaty of Madrid, which redefined the borders between Portuguese and Spanish colonies in South America.
  • Importance: Crucial for understanding border negotiations and the treaty’s impact on Brazil’s political geography.

10. Map of the Empire of Brazil (1822)

  • Description: Shows the territory of Brazil shortly after independence from Portugal.
  • Importance: Marks the beginning of Brazil as an independent nation, with a representation of the provinces that made up the Empire.

11. Cruls Commission Map (1892)

  • Description: Map produced by the Central Plateau Exploration Commission, led by Luís Cruls.
  • Importance: Fundamental for the future location of Brazil’s capital, Brasília, which was transferred in 1960.

Where to Find Historical Maps of Brazil

  • National Library of Brazil: Holds a vast collection of historical maps available for consultation.
  • Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE): Offers a collection of historical and modern maps.
  • National Archives: Another important source of historical documents, including maps.
  • University Websites: Many Brazilian universities provide historical maps in their digital libraries.

Tips for Studying Historical Maps

  • Compare Maps from Different Periods: Comparing maps from different periods can help understand territorial and political changes.
  • Study the Legend and Scale: The legend and scale of maps provide crucial information for correctly interpreting the details depicted.
  • Historical Context: Consider the historical context in which the map was produced to understand its limitations and objectives.

Historical maps of Brazil are invaluable tools for studying the country’s geographic, social, and political history. They provide a deep understanding of how Brazilian territory was explored, colonized, and administered over the centuries.

Historical Maps

Map of Africa from 1570

Historical Map of Africa from 1570 Ortelius’ Cornerstone Map of Africa “Africae Tabula Nova”, Ortelius, Abraham Period: 1570 Publication: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum This striking map is one of the cornerstone maps of Africa and remained the standard map of Africa well into the seventeenth century. It was designed by Ortelius […]

Mapa do Brasil de 1730
"Nova et Accurata Brasiliae Totius Tabula, Auctore Ioanne Blaeu I.F.", Blaeu/Schenk
Este mapa escasso é o terceiro mapa do Brasil de Johannes Blaeu. Ele inclui as capitanias ao longo da costa e é uma melhoria significativa em relação aos mapas anteriores de Blaeu do Brasil. A bela cartela é cercada por querubins e um deus do rio. Esse mapa, desenhado por Joannes de Broen e gravado por Abraham Wolfgang, foi concluído pouco antes do grande incêndio que destruiu a gráfica e, portanto, foi incluído em apenas uma edição dos atlas de Blaeu. Em 1694, Pieter Schenk adquiriu várias placas de cobre de Blaeu, incluindo esta.
Historical Maps

Map of Brazil from 1730

Map of Brazil from 1730 – Historical Map “Nova et Accurata Brasiliae Totius Tabula, Auctore Ioanne Blaeu I.F.”, Blaeu/Schenk This scarce map is Johannes Blaeu’s third map of Brazil. It includes the hereditary captaincies along the coast and is a significant improvement over Blaeu’s previous maps of Brazil. The handsome […]

Mapa de Portugal e Espanha de 1620.
Excelente mapa da Espanha e de Portugal, incluindo Maiorca e Menorca. Gravado com muito requinte por Petrus Kaerius, com cartelas elaboradas, navios a vela, monstros marinhos e rosas de bússola. O mar está gravado em um padrão moiré arrojado.
Historical Maps

Map of Portugal and Spain from 1620

Map of Portugal and Spain from 1620 “Hispaniae Nova Describtio, de integro Multis Inlocis, Secundum Hydrographicas, Desc. Emendata”, Hondius, Jodocus  Superb map of Spain and Portugal including Majorca and Minorca. Very finely engraved by Petrus Kaerius with elaborate cartouches, sailing ships, sea monsters and compass roses. The sea is engraved […]

Antonio de Herrera Y Tordelisllas foi o historiador oficial de Espanha e das Índias. Ele compilou uma história das conquistas espanholas e das primeiras explorações nas Américas, que incluía este mapa do continente gravado de forma simples. O mapa é em grande parte derivado das cartas manuscritas de Juan Lopez de Velasco. O continente é dominado pelas enormes "R. de los Amazona" e R. de la Plato" e pela cordilheira ocidental. É apresentado o "Meridiano de la de Marcacion", que dividia o mundo não cristão entre Espanha e Portugal.
Historical Maps

Map of South America from 1601

Map of South America from 1601 – Descripcion de las Indias “Descripcion de las Yndias de Mediodia”, Herrera y Tordesillas, Antonio de Antonio de Herrera Y Tordelisllas was the official historian of Spain and the Indies. He compiled a history of the Spanish conquests and early explorations in the Americas, which included […]

World Map from 1584
Historical Maps

Map of the World from 1584

Map of the World from 1584 – Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Ortelius’ Famous World Map – First Plate in Full Contemporary Color “Typus Orbis Terrarum”, Ortelius, Abraham This is the first (of three) world maps that was included in Ortelius’ famous atlas. It is a simplified reduction of Mercator’s influential map of […]

Mapa da Africa de 1593
Historical Maps

Map of Africa from 1593

Map of Africa from 1593 – Speculum Orbis Terrae “Africae Vera Forma, et Situs”, Jode, Cornelis de This exceedingly rare map is an interesting amalgamation of cartographical sources. Cornelis prepared this map for the second edition of the Speculum after his father’s death in 1591. It replaced the African map of the first […]

Mapa da Europa de 1575
Historical Maps

Map of Europe from 1575

Map of Europe from 1575 – Cosmographie Universelle de Tout le Monde Scarce Woodcut Version of Ortelius’ Map of Europe – “Europae”, Belleforest, Francois This scarce map is a woodcut version of Ortelius’ map of Europe. The map extends to include Iceland and part of Greenland, and there is a tiny […]

Mapa da Jamaica de 1671
Historical Maps

Map of Jamaica from 1671

Mapa da Jamaica de 1671 – Atlas Maritimus “Novissima et Accuratissima Insulae Jamaicae Descriptio”, Seller, John  This is the first state of a very rare English map showing the island divided into precincts. In 1670, Sir Thomas Modyford ordered a survey of the island, which was completed by John Man, the […]

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Historical Maps

Map of Panama from 1699

Map of Panama from 1699 “A Draft of the Golden & Adjacent Islands, with Part of ye Isthmus of Darien… [on sheet with] A New Map of ye Isthmus of Darien in America, the Bay of Panama, the Gulph of Vallona or St. Michael…”, Hacke, William (Capt.) Two maps on […]

Este fascinante mapa pictórico é um dos primeiros mapas regionais do Brasil que se pode obter. Ilustrado com o norte à direita, o mapa está repleto de vinhetas que representam a vida nativa, em vez de se concentrar em informações geográficas. Os índios nativos são mostrados com arcos e flechas, machados, lhamas e redes, pelos quais os brasileiros são bem conhecidos. O oceano ao redor está repleto de navios franceses e portugueses e monstros marinhos. Ao longo da costa, os europeus são retratados interagindo com os nativos. As poucas informações geográficas apresentadas são bastante imprecisas. O rio Amazonas (aqui chamado Maranon F.) e o rio Paraná têm origem em lagos situados ao lado de um vulcão em erupção. Montanhas e rios espúrios preenchem a porção ocidental do Brasil, denominada Terra non Discoperta (terra não descoberta).
Historical Maps

Map of Brazil from 1606

Map of Brazil from 1606 – Delle Navigationi et Viaggi Raccolta… “Brasil”, Ramusio, Giovanni Battista This fascinating pictorial map is one of the earliest obtainable regional maps of Brazil. Illustrated with north to the right, the map is filled with vignettes representing native life, rather than focusing on geographical information. Native […]