{ subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/geography-and-maps.php' }

Mapping the Land of Fire and Ice

Early maps of Iceland are compelling, they are often embellished with sea monsters and pictorials. Modern maps of the country are equally interesting because of the unique shape and terrain of the island. Iceland, with its glaciers and volcanoes, is accurately nicknamed the “Land of Fire and Ice.” The maps of Iceland featured in this post  are dated from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

In 1539 the Swedish cartographer Olaus Magnus created the Carta Marina. The Carta Marina was the first detailed map of Scandinavia, with more place-names than earlier maps of the region. Many of the sea monsters shown on later maps of Iceland were derived from Magnus’s map. An image of a 1572 edition of the Carta Marina is featured below.

A map of Scandinavia by the Swedish cartographer Olaus Magnus.

Carta Marina. By Olaus Magnus, 1572. WDL.

A portrait of Bishop Gudbrandur Thorlaksson.

Bishop Gudbrandur Thorlaksson from Two cartographers… by Halldór Hermannsson, 1926. Geography and Map Division.

The map below was published in the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Abraham Ortelius. The map was created by the Icelandic cartographer, mathematician, and clergyman Bishop Gudbrandur Thorlaksson. Thorlaksson, pictured on the right, served as the Bishop of Holar from 1570 to 1627. The  historian and author Halldór Hermannsson made the following statement about Gudbrandur Thorlaksson in his book Two cartographers, Guðbrandur Thorláksson and Thórðour Thorláksson:

Bishop Thorlaksson was the first to determine scientifically the latitude of any place in Iceland.

Illustrations on the map show polar bears floating on icebergs, Mount Hekla  erupting, and sea monsters. Descriptions of the sea monsters are provided on the back. The following is a description of the whale named The Steipereidur:

The Steipereidur, the tamest of whales; it fights other whales on behalf of fishermen. Public laws forbid anyone to harm it. It is a hundred cubits long.

A map of Iceland created by Bishop Thorlaksson and published by Abraham Ortelius.

Islandia. Published by Abraham Ortelius, 1612. Geography and Map Division.

This map was included in an atlas published by the Venetian cartographer Giovanni Francesco Camocio. The atlas, titled Insole Famose Porti… includes a collection of maps related to the Ottoman-Venetian War, which lasted from 1570 to 1573. In addition to maps of the principal islands of the Mediterranean, the atlas also includes maps of England and Ireland and the map of Iceland shown below.

A map of Iceland dated 1574.

Islanda. Published by Giovanni Francesco Camocio, 1574. Geography and Map Division.

The map of Iceland below is from a world atlas titled Hand-boeck : of Cort Begrijp der Caerten. The atlas was printed in 1609 by the Dutch publisher and bookseller Barent Langenes.

A map of Iceland published in 1609 by Barent Langenes.

Islandia. Published by Barent Langenes, 1609. Geography and Map Division.

The following map was created by the Venetian mapmaker Tomaso Porcacchi. The map is from Porcacchi’s pocket size atlas L’isole piv Famos del Mondo. The atlas was published in several editions from 1572 to 1686.

A map of Iceland published by Tomaso Porcacchi.

Islanda. Published by Tomaso Porcacchi, 1686. Geography and Map Division.

This map was published by Willem Janszoon Blaeu in Le Theatre du Monde, ou, Novvel Atlas. The Dutch cartographer Joris Carolus created the map. During the Eighty Years War Joris Carolus was severely injured at the Siege of Ostend. He later became a noted cartographer, explorer, and author of a book on navigational charts and sailing directions.

A map of Iceland created by the Dutch cartographer Joris Carolus.

Tabula Islandiae. Published by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, 1647. Geography and Map Division.

The Icelandic geographer and geologist Thorvaldur Thoroddsen explored the topography of Iceland from 1881 to 1898. The map below was published in 1905. It was based on Thoroddsen’s 17 years of research. The uninhabited areas of Iceland were not thoroughly surveyed until the 19th century. Thorvaldur Thoroddsen wrote the following statement in an article that he prepared for the Geographical Journal:

That Iceland has never previously been thoroughly examined  is due to a variety of causes, its vast extent, its peculiar physical features, the sparse population, the unfavorable climatic conditions, the limited portion of the year during which it is possible to carry on investigations.

A map of Iceland dated 1905.

Hohenschichten Karte von Island von. Th. Thoroddsen. Published by Justus Perthes, 1905. Geography and Map Division.

This map was made by the Icelandic geologist Helgi Pjeturss in 1908. In addition to his geological research, Dr. Pjeturss was also active in the study of astrobiology, a field of study that examines the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

A geology map of Iceland published in 1908.

Island Vorlaufige Skizze des geologischen Aufbaues von Helgi Pjeturss. Published by Zeitchr. d. Ges. f. Erdkunde zu Berlin, 1908. Geography and Map Division.

A satellite image of the northern coast of Iceland.

Icelandic Tiger. Published by USGS, 1999. Geography and Map Division.

On the right is a Landsat satellite image of the northern coast of Iceland. The image, known as the Icelandic Tiger, was published as part of an Earth as Art  program by the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center at USGS. The Icelandic Tiger is part of a collection that is exhibited in the hallway outside of the Geography and Map Division. The exhibit features Landsat images of places throughout the world.

I have featured a few of the maps of Iceland from the collections of the Library of Congress. There are many others that I would like to include; however, I am unable to in a short blog post. The sources listed below provide more information about the cartographic history of Iceland.

Learn More:

Learn more about antique maps of Iceland  in Maps of Iceland : antique maps of Iceland, 1482 to 1850  by Reynir Finndal Gretarsson.

Read additional information about the cartographic history of Iceland and view maps dated from 1544 to 1951 on a site prepared by the National and University Library of Iceland here.

Winds of (Ex)Change in the Indian Ocean

Take a look at this monsoon chart, paying special attention to the western Indian Ocean between the east coast of Africa and the west coast of India, and you might notice a pattern: The left chart depicts the prevailing winds in the Indian Ocean in February; the right, in August. In winter, a sea of […]

Magnificent Maps From the World Digital Library

Launched in 2009, the World Digital Library [WDL] was a project of the U.S. Library of Congress, with the support of UNESCO, and contributions from libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations around the world. The WDL sought to preserve and share some of the world’s most important cultural objects, increasing access to cultural […]

Nicolas de Fer:The Royal Geographer

The French cartographer and engraver, Nicolas de Fer, was a master at creating maps that were works of art. The maps that he published were printed during the Baroque period when the decorative arts were characterized by ornate detail. De Fer’s detailed maps and atlases were valued more for their decorative content than their geographical […]

Searching for Saint Brendan’s Island

Over the years I have noticed the placement of Saint Brendan’s Island on historical maps. I became curious about the mythical island and the story behind it. Saint Brendan’s Island was placed in different locations on maps of the Atlantic Ocean. The island was often placed west of England and Ireland. It was also placed […]

“Eastern Branch of the Potomac River” or “Anacostia River”? A Cartographic Curiosity…

One of the joys involved in answering reference questions submitted to the Geography and Map Division is that some questions (the fun ones!) frequently involve extensive research in the Library’s cartographic holdings. Staff of the Geography and Map Division are also fortunate to be able to consult photocopies of maps from other institutions, early photographs […]

Verba Incognita: A Guide to Deciphering Latin on Maps

This is a guest post by Kelly Bilz, Librarian-in-Residence in the Geography and Map Division. Even though Latin had fallen out of vernacular use after the fall of Rome (and began to evolve into the modern Romance languages), it lived on in its written form, becoming the lingua franca, so to speak, of scholarship. In […]

The Exotic Animals of the Americas

European colonists were fascinated with the wildlife of the Western Hemisphere. They described fauna native to the Americas in memoirs, travel journals and poetry. Pictures of the unfamiliar animals were often printed on maps. In this post I will discuss four colonial era maps that were decorated with illustrations of animals. The two maps of […]