Cities of the World by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg (1617)

Cities of the World has been described as ‘Google Earth’s ancestor’. Focusing on Europe but including important cities and landmarks in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the maps in this beautiful book were originally created and published as six volumes of the Civitates Orbis Terrarum between 1572 and 1617. Taschen’s volume includes 564  original engravings (mostly by Franz Hogenberg), Georg Braun’s original supporting text, and an updated history of each city and landmark featured.

These maps, and the original text that supports them, are not without imperfections. The comprehensive introduction details the wide-ranging but occasionally haphazard way Braun and Hogenberg secured information, and at the very least they could be considered repetitive stylistically.

Nevertheless these maps remain beautifully intricate and a lot of fun to look through. If it’s a city you’ve already been to, it’s interesting to try to retrace your holiday footsteps, and the armchair tour of world cities prompts lots of ideas for future adventures. The quirky details – as well as depictions of local fashions, trades and customs, the maps include cuckolded husbands, executed  peasant rebels and the occasional elephant – mean you could challenge friends to a very sophisticated game of Where’s Wally (‘find me the page where Hogenburg’s doing a 17th century selfie…’).

In addition, Braun’s text includes some very amusing contemporary references – particularly to alcohol. In Hamburg, ‘it is quite astonishing to see how the people get drunk on beer: it is even the case that the one who can drink the most receives the most praise and admiration’. In Leipzig, ‘a…student (said) he was holding his own very well, for among the 1,500 students there was no other who could drink better than he’. Rostock’s own brewed beer ‘is better than all other Norwegian beers for its quality and taste’. It’s comforting to know that our forebears shared the same important preoccupations when city-breaking.

Jerusalem (detail)

Above all, reading the updated history of each city –  their rise, fall and transformation through either shifting trade patterns or the destruction and population change wrought by war, for example – demonstrates how far our cities’ stories are microcosms of world history. Fascinating, quality stuff from Taschen!

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