The basis of the museum Collection cartographic exposition is comprised of the engraved and lithographed maps of the territory of the Caucasus dating to the late 18th and early 20th centuries and reflecting the history of the inclusion of the region into Russia. This process, which actively began in the second half of the 18th century, was finished in 1864 with the conquest of the Western Caucasus.

Diverse in their contents - general geographic maps, defined in the terminology of the time as "military-topographic" maps, political-administrative maps, maps of transport routes, topographic maps, and plans of segregated territories and ethnic regions -- the maps enable the history of the Caucasus to be traced in graphic rather than textual terms. They were created mainly by the Military Department, which played a leading role in the cartography and cartographic publishing of the country from the beginning of the 19th century. Military topographic services, whose development coincided with the period of the long Caucasus war and was accompanied by intensive surveying, worked to create overview maps of the whole Caucasus and its separate regions. Their purpose was to indicate precisely the new status of the common border territories and acquisitions of the Russian Empire in the south; to illustrate the integration of the region into the Russian Empire, to show its administrative and territorial transformation, to give an idea of the political situation in the North Caucasus in the context of the ethno-religious characteristics of the population with the number and attitude towards Russia (whether conquered or not). The cartographic materials are thus valuable sources for the study of the Caucasus and its people’s history, illustrating the process of the region integration into the Russian state with changes in the political, administrative and ethno-territorial borders.


The ancient ideas about the region lying between the Caspian, Black and Azov Seas (i.e. the territories of present-day southern Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran) are demonstrated by the maps of European cartographers, engravers and publishers of the 17th-18th centuries that are presented in the collection. These are maps of Sarmatia (the European part of Russia), Tartaria (the collective name for the modern southern and Siberian borders of Russia), Asia (the Caucasus), Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea), and Maris Caspian (the Caspian Sea). Of particular interest are maps based on Claudius Ptolemy's Guide to Geography. In the middle of the 2nd century, the Alexandrian astronomer and geographer Claudius Ptolemy compiled an eight-book Geographical Manual with a list of cities and rivers, indicating their geographical longitude and latitude, supplementing the text with maps that have not survived. In the 13th century, a Byzantine monk named Maximus Planudes, a connoisseur of old manuscripts, discovered Ptolemy's “Geographie”, but without maps. Guided by the Ptolemy text, he decided to create them. Thus the first Ptolemy maps known to us appeared. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Greeks who had fled from the Turks brought many Byzantine manuscripts to Italy, among them the “Geographie”. In 1466, a Benedictine monk, German artisan Nicholas restored the maps in a new trapezoidal projection basing on the Latin translations. Engraved in 1477, they were included in the Bolognese edition of “Geographie”, printed in 500 copies, the first printed edition of Ptolemy. The maps of Ptolemy changed the way the world was depicted. The theological explanation of the universe, the only acceptable to medieval man, according to which the three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa, divided between the three sons of Noah, were arranged in a cross shape and Jerusalem was located at their intersection (because according to the medieval view the Holy Sepulcher was the center of the world) had changed to the world view of the modern man, who saw the world from a bird's-eye view.

Despite considerable inaccuracies, Ptolemy's maps were widely recognized by Europeans and served as a major source of information on geography until the Geographical Discoveries, and the “Geographic Guide” was one of the first geographic handbooks, used by many famous cartographers, such as Sebastian Münster (1489-1552), whose “Cosmographia universalis” presented the European part of Russia for the first time, or Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), whose maps show the continents as we know them, gave the atlas its now-natural name because on the title page of his “Atlas sive cosmographicae meditations de fabrica mundi et fabricate figura”, he placed an image of the giant Atlas carrying on his shoulders the globe of Earth.

While studying the maps of the 17th – 18th centuries it is necessary to point out a close link between science and art. Scientific images of the earth surface were supplemented with various geographical elements (for example, mythological or allegoric characters) or cartouche – an ornamental frame covered with swags made of flowers, leaves, fruit, war trophies or genre scenes that often have a meaning and a text inside the frame.

A bright example of such alliance of science and art is “Russian Atlas consisting of forty-three maps, dividing the Empire into forty-one governorates” dated 1800 that is presented in the museum Collection. Each map is decorated with a story-driven cartouche characterizing the depicted territory in economic, political and historic aspects. According to the opinion of researchers, the author of these cartouches could be the person that compiled the “Atlas” -- Russian mathematician, geographer and mapmaker A.M. Wilbrecht (1757-1823), and the author of the images was I.F. Tupilev (1758-1821), professor of historical painting at the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg.

Atlas compilation works were initiated by Peter the Great, who organized field surveying of the so-called “Peter’s land-surveyors” that started systematic mapping of the country as the means for studying natural resources and economic peculiarities of the territory. Those surveys of the country performed in 1720-1750 years resulted in emerging of the first widespread cartographic records that contained uniform general geographic information on rather vast regions. The first attempt of publishing the atlas was made in 1731, when in the Printing House of V.O. Kipriyanov; the so-called Kirilov’s Atlas of Kirilov was printed in several copies.

The first official atlas of the state was the "Atlas of Russia", published in large print run by the Academy of Sciences in 1745 and followed up throughout the 18th century.

During the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796), the financing of scientific research of the country's territories was increased in order to better understand the country from ethnographic, social, and economic points of view. The abundance of information on the geography of Russia, derived from numerous expeditions, made it possible to publish a new national atlas, which Catherine II took charge of compiling in 1786. "The Russian atlas consisting of forty four maps and dividing the Empire into forty viceroys”, which took seven years to complete, was published in St. Petersburg at the School of Mines in 1792. Later in 1793-1795 due to the abundance of geographic information received as a result of the Russian Empire expansion to the West and the process of creating new governorates on the former Turkish and Polish lands, the “Atlas” dated 1792 was published with additional maps of new provinces.

Based on the 1792 “Atlas”, the 1800 "Russian Atlas" was created; half of the maps were printed from the copper boards from which the corresponding maps of 1792 had been printed, but with more or less changes inserted to them. The new “Atlas” had to reflect not only the changes made to the administrative-territorial structure of the empire by Emperor Paul I (1796-1801) after his accession to the throne in 1796, but also to celebrate him distinguishably as the protector of justice and order, emphasizing the greatness of the Russian Empire.

Thus, the maps weave together a moment of history, political interests and the level of scientific knowledge and understanding of the universe. Engraved by prominent artisans and published by renowned publishers, they can say a great deal about their time and their perception.

Welcome to the world of maps!