L'histoire des cartes d'État-Major : un aperçu

The history of French General Staff maps: an overview

French General Staff maps are detailed topographical maps of France, created from land surveys carried out between 1818 and 1880. These maps succeeded the famous Cassini maps and played an important role in the history of France , cartography and geographic science in general. In this article, we will explore the history of field maps and their importance in modern cartography.

The beginnings of cartography

Maps have been used since ancient times to represent lands, rivers, mountains and cities. However, until the 18th century, cartography was primarily based on artistic drawings rather than precise land surveys. The first modern topographic maps were produced by military engineers during conflicts, for strategic reasons. Driven by his incessant need for maps in order to carry out his campaigns, Napoleon initiated the idea of ​​creating General Staff maps in 1802. Much information from the General Staff maps comes from the Cassini map, they can be considered as their succession.

The importance of staff maps

General Staff maps were created to meet the needs of the French military, who wanted precise maps to plan military operations. The general maps were produced by teams of surveyors who carried out land surveys via triangulation. These surveys made it possible to create the famous 273 maps at 1:80,000 and then the Type 1889 maps at a scale of 1:50,000 (other alternative versions and at different scales will also see the light of day).
Narbonne General Staff Map
Narbonne Staff Map dating from 1890
The use of general maps has spread to other fields, such as scientific research, geography and cartography. Staff maps provided valuable information about the lands, villages and towns of 19th-century France, and became a valuable resource for researchers of local history and genealogy.

The evolution of cartography

Staff maps were the basis of French cartography until the mid-20th century, when they were replaced by larger-scale and more precise maps, the famous IGN maps. However, general staff maps remain an important source of historical information about 19th-century France.
Today, mapping is based on advanced technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), satellites and drones. Modern topographic maps are created from ground surveys, aerial photographs and satellite data.


In conclusion, general staff maps have played an important role in the history of France, cartography and geographical science in general. They provided valuable information on the French landscape of the 19th century and were the basis of French cartography for several decades. Although mapping technologies have evolved, general staff maps remain an important source of historical information about France and its past geography.
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