Skip to main content

Gerardus Mercator the inventor of the world map

Gerardus Mercator (5 March 1512 – 2 December 1594) was a Flemish cartographer. He was born in Rupelmonde, Belgium. He is remembered for the Mercator projection world map named after him.

Mercator was born Gheert Cremer (or Gérard de Crémère) in the Flemish town of Rupelmonde to parents from Gangelt in the Duchy of Jülich.


"Mercator" is the Latinized form of his name. It means "merchant". He was educated in 's-Hertogenbosch by the famous humanist Macropedius and at the University of Leuven. Despite Mercator's fame as a cartographer, his main source of income came through his craftsmanship of mathematical instruments.

In Leuven, he worked with Gemma Frisius and Gaspar Myrica from 1535 to 1536 to construct a terrestrial globe. Although the role of Mercator in the project was not primarily as a cartographer, but rather as a highly-skilled engraver of brass plates. Mercator's own independent map-making began only when he produced a map of Palestine in 1537; this map was followed by another -- a map of the world (1538) and a map of Flanders (1540). During this period he learned Italic script because it was the most suitable type of script for copper engraving of maps. He wrote the first instruction book of Italic script published in northern Europe.

Mercator was charged with heresy in 1544 on the basis of his sympathy for Protestant beliefs and suspicions about his frequent travels. He was in prison for seven months before the charges were dropped possibly because of intervention from the university.


In 1552, he moved to Duisburg, one of the major cities in the German Duchy of Cleves, and opened a cartographic workshop where he completed a six-panel map of Europe in 1554. He worked also as a surveyor for the city. His motives for moving to Duisburg are not clear. Mercator might have left the Netherlands for religious reasons or because he was informed about the plans to found a university.

He taught mathematics at the academic college of Duisburg. After producing several maps, he was appointed Court Cosmographer to Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg in 1564. He constructed a new chart and first used it in 1569. It had parallel lines of longitude to aid navigation by sea, as compass courses could be marked as straight lines.


Mercator took the word atlas to describe a collection of maps and encouraged Abraham Ortelius to compile the first modern world atlas --Theatrum Orbis Terrarum -- in 1570. He produced his own atlas in a number of parts, the first of which was published in 1578 and consisted of corrected versions of the maps of Ptolemy (though introducing a number of new errors). Maps of France, Germany and the Netherlands were added in 1585 and of the Balkans and Greece in 1588; further maps were published by Mercator's son Rumold Mercator in 1595 after the death of his father.

Mercator devised a technique to produce globes, celestial as well as terrestrial, by techniques of relative mass production. Globes at the time were laboriously produced by engraving upon a sphere of wood or gilded brass. Mercator molded globes of papier-mâché on a wooden mold, then cut them along the equator; once reassembled, the globes were coated with gesso, a white mixture of thin plaster and sizing. Mercator engraved and printed sets of world maps on twelve tapering gores, with curved edges that narrowed towards the poles. These twelve gores were cut out and applied to the globe. Circular engraved caps covered the ends at the poles. After the globes were hand-tinted with watercolors, they were set in wooden stands with calibrated brass horizon rings. Twenty-two such pairs of Mercator globes have survived.


Popular posts from this blog

Belgian kids got to drink beer during their school lunch

There are almost 800 different kinds of beer in Belgium. One kind was very popular till the70's, it was even given to kids at school during their lunch break. Beer to kids? You must be kidding! Well, let's go a bit further into this. The beers we are talking about were so-called table beers, a kind of beer that was specially made for people who can't drink alcohol. So it's was a kind of alcohol-free beer, a kind, because there was some alcohol in it. between 1 and 4 percent alcohol. The most popular table beer was Piedboeuf, it had 1.1 percent alcohol in it and there was a lot of sugar added to make it as sweet as Coca-Cola. A good marketing strategy made that it was well distributed in almost all schools in Belgium. The reason was that it would be very healthy for them, because of the natural ingredients and of course the sugar. It would make them grow fast and strong. It would even be good for pregnant women and for women that were breastfeeding their baby'

How the Belgians founded New York

In order to avoid any confusion in this story, it is important to know that in the sixteenth century, the Netherlands covered a part of northern France and Lorraine, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the present Netherlands. Its inhabitants were called the Belgians, and the maps represented the country in the shape of a lion: the "Leo Belgicus". Besides, numerous maps from the sixteenth century showed this territory under the name of Belgium. The latter failed into disuse for the benefit of the Netherlands and only reappeared in 1789 on the occasion of the first Belgian revolution. In 1831 Belgium became an independent country. Today Belgium is a lot smaller and is divided into two big regions mostly based on the language they speak in that particular region. In the north, there is Flanders where they speak Flemish (Dutch) and in the south, there is the Walloon part where they speak French. Almost in the center and between the two parts is the region of the capital Brussels.

A secret medieval street in Antwerp

The Vlaeykensgang is a unique small street in the center of Antwerp. Hidden between two busy Antwerp streets and close to the Cathedral. This medieval times street can easily be walked past unnoticed. Behind its meter-wide entrance, there is an oasis. A step into the passage with its quiet courtyards transports visitors back in time, back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Picture by Harry Fabel Previously, the street was the domain of shoemakers, who had to sound the alarm bell of the Cathedral, also some of the poorest people of the city lived in that very small street. Now you will find antique shops, art galleries, and an exclusive restaurant, Sir Anthony Van Dyck. There is a subdued atmosphere and the street is a popular place to listen to the cathedral's summer carillon concerts. At its heart, you find the Axel Vervoordt Gallery. Picture by Harry Fabel The "Vlaeykensgang" exists as a key piece of Antwerp’s architectural and sociological history, offering a