The geographic maps that we are so used to seeing were completely different a few centuries ago. At that time, the inhabitants of Europe did not even suspect the existence of entire continents. The historical maps below show how geographical discoveries were changing the face of the map throughout centuries.
Map of Atlantic Ocean as imagined (1474)
Map of the Atlantic Ocean according to Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli (1474). This is most probably what Columbus was expecting to find (American real outline in the background).
Italian explorer Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. The Bahamas Islands was the first land in the New World visited by Christopher Columbus. Nearly 40 years later, European navigators mapped almost the entire east coast of the Americas.
Map of the Americas coast (1529)
Portuguese cartographer Diogo Ribeiro created the first scientific world map. His map describes the coasts of Central and South America very accurately. It exhibits the entire east coast of the Americas and the west shoreline just from Guatemala to Ecuador. The map displays, for the first time, the correct size of the Pacific Ocean, and for the first time in cartography shows the North American coast as a continuous one. But, neither Australia nor Antarctica appears, and the Indian peninsula seems too small.
Another large landmass, which was later named Australia, remained unknown to European sailors until the early 17th century.
Map of a not yet fully discovered Australia (1659)
Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon was the first European who was landfalling in Australia. On 26 February 1606, Willem Janszoon landed at the Pennefather River on the western coast of Cape York in Queensland, in the vicinity of the modern city of Weipa.
Meanwhile, America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts were fully mapped, except the northwest coast of North America.
The map below depicts California as an island.
“Americae Nova Descriptio…” (1663)
California as an island endured common on maps until the mid-18th century.
Map of the Unexplored World (1881)
At the beginning of the 19th century, Europe, Asia, and North America’s main features were known and mapped, but the hearts of South America, Africa, and Australia had yet to be entirely explored and mapped. Besides, The Arctic and Antarctica were almost wholly unknown. Norwegian traveler Roald Amundsen would only reach the South Pole in 1911.
The map below appeared in Jules Verne’s book “The Great Explorers of the Nineteenth Century” and revealed the world’s territories that remained unexplored to Westerners in 1881.
If you enjoyed these maps, you may also be interested in: “How the World was Imagined: First Maps and Atlases”.