Who was Mercator?
Mercator's name is synonymous with modern cartography because he was the first to invent a successful projection of the world's curved surface onto a flat surface. Thus, the globe could be mapped. Today, the map of the world with which we are most familiar is rendered with the Mercator projection.
Gerardus de Kremer (Mercator is his Latinized name) was born March 5, 1518, in Belgium. Gerardus' father was a shoemaker in Flanders. He was educated in the Netherlands and died December 2, 1594, in Duisburg, Duchy of Cleve (Germany) after a lifetime of accomplishment in cartography.
Gerardus Mercator's grandson (also Gerard Mercator) copied the Africa map featured on this site from the larger 1569 world map by Mercator. Other mapmakers were strongly influenced by this depiction of Africa. Indeed, the coastline and overall shape of the continent is mostly correct, but the rivers reflect the lack of European knowledge about the interior.
The course of the Nile back to its source is more representative of the obsession this held for Europeans until discoveries of the nineteenth century than it is of geographical accuracy.
Three large lakes and several smaller ones in the Mountains of the Moon ("Lune Montes") give rise to the river, located south of the equator. This concept of the Nile is based on the geography of Ptolemy, a second century Greek scholar. In fact, the Nile's source is Lake Victoria, a single very large lake on the equator.
Another significant anomaly is the river flowing eastwards in the Sahara Desert almost from the Atlantic Ocean! A southern branch of this system is the Niger River, which was virtually unknown until the nineteenth century, well after several European lost their lives exploring this river. The most famous of these was Mungo Park, whose exploits are eloquently described in a fictionalized history by T. Coraghessan Boyle in Water Music.
The story of Prester John was taken as fact by educated people of the time and in the lands of "Abissini," (today Ethiopia) Mercator depicts the legendary ruler on a throne (read more about Prester John). Mercator knew of Africa's river system in this areathe Nile being the major waterway but precise details were lacking.
Likewise, the Congo (Africa's biggest river) is shown but, like the Nile, details are inaccurate. Indeed, the two rivers are shown linked, close by the Mountains of the Moon, perhaps due to confusion over the vast but separate lakes that feed both rivers.
Mercator shuns no effort to demonstrate his mastery of engraving and map decoration. Today we expect maps to display only the facts, but early cartographers decorated their maps with elaborate and often fanciful artwork. The compass rose, showing points of the compass, and title features (called the cartouche link to cartouche page) were especially decorative.
Who was Hondius?
Jodocus Hondius was born in Flanders in present-day Belgium. Like other artisans of his day, his career began serving an apprenticeship. However, conflict between Catholics and the newly emerging Protestants led to Hondius' temporary exile in London. He moved to Amsterdam in 1593 and began his engraving business which expanded to include publishing.
Hondius established himself as one of Europe's premier map publishers following his purchase in 1604 of Mercator's original plates for the Orbis Terrarum (World Atlas). Hondius added another forty maps to his edition, published under his own and Mercator's names.
After his death in 1612, Hondius' sons and widow ran the enterprise, publishing further editions of the atlas, including a reduced version, the Atlas Minor. Historians agree that Hondius holds a prominent place in the history of Renaissance cartography.