Chorographic Charts


Before maps in the modern sense of the word— diagrams which represent at scale the entirety of a space, point for point— were invented, chorographic drawings were the most common graphic means of recording landscapes. To modern eyes, chorographic maps distort space by enlarging the places of great interest and omitting or crowding out locations of no interest. But in their day, this was precisely the merit of a chorographic visualization. It selected only what the reader needed to know, showing the landscape's bounds and highlighting its points of human interest.

Only three chorographic charts survive from antiquity, and each is discussed on its own page in this library:

A familiar modern counterpart of the chorographic map is the panoramic chart of mountain recreation areas, a species which continues to be drawn in Europe by a profession known as panorama-zeichner. The website has a selection. These views are drawn from an oblique angle and show just enough of the peaks, cliffs and trails to orient the newly arrived visitor.

An ancient chorographic chart may look like a map to us, yet is not a map as we who learned map-reading in school know maps. It offers a subtle variety of perspectives, where one can look around corners. North is rarely at top, and if the chorography turns out to be north oriented, this may be mere accident. It lacks the consistent scale which would have made it a useful guide to reliably plan a journey with least effort across the landscape.

Their most salient feature is the use over their entire surface of vignettes— simplified diagrammatic representations of towns or fortresses or religious sites in either profile or with the roof included to simulate a view from diagonally above. In addition we are generally shown points of interest, clusters of inhabitants, resources such as hot springs and the obstacles such as water or mountains which obstruct travel as well as clear country bounded by these barriers.

Chorographic maps employ diagrammatic techniques at two levels:

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