Carte ancienne de la Gaule par Nicolas Sanson

Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville: The Cartographer who Redefined France

Cartography is a fascinating discipline that has played a crucial role in understanding the world throughout the centuries. In the 17th century, this science was booming, and among the renowned cartographers of that time, Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville stands out as one of the most famous. In this article, we will explore the life and work of Nicolas Sanson, from his youth in Abbeville to his fame as a renowned cartographer.

The youth of Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville

Nicolas Sanson was born on December 20, 1600 in Abbeville, in the north of France. Son of Thomas Sanson, he came from a well-established family in the region, his father being a local notable, merchant, consul, alderman, and financier of the city. It was in this environment that Nicolas grew up, but he would soon turn to a passion that would mark his life.

From his youth, Nicolas Sanson showed an exceptional interest in cartography. While he was still a student, he undertook the creation of a map of Ancient Gaul, based on the comments of Julius Caesar. This early act reveals his innate talent for cartography, but he will take a different path at first.

In accordance with his father's expectations, Nicolas opened a cloth business in Abbeville after his marriage to Elisabeth Le Moictier in 1621, putting his passion for cartography on hold.

Nicolas Sanson, the famous cartographer

In 1627, Nicolas's destiny took a decisive turn. He decides to liquidate his business in Abbeville to follow his passion for cartography and moves to Paris. It was there that he began to make a name for himself in the world of cartography.

His first major achievement, the map of Gaul, created during his youth, attracted the attention of Cardinal Richelieu. Nicolas Sanson thus becomes Engineer-Geographer to the King, a prestigious position which allows him to work on large-scale cartographic projects.

Old map of the Rivers by Nicolas Sanson

Old map of the Rivers by Nicolas Sanson

In 1632, he published his famous "Carte des Postes de France", which quickly became a reference of the time. After several years of fruitful collaboration with the Parisian publisher Melchior Tavernier, Nicolas Sanson decided to launch his own publishing house and obtained the necessary privilege to personally publish his works.

The legacy of Nicolas Sanson

However, Nicolas Sanson's life was not without tragedy. In 1648, his eldest son, Nicolas, intended to take over, died prematurely. When Nicolas Sanson died in 1667, it was his two other sons, Guillaume and Adrien, who continued to sell his maps, thus perpetuating his cartographic legacy.

In 1692, Nicolas's sons sold the geography collection to Pierre-Moulart-Sanson, grandson of the famous cartographer. This fund will then pass into the hands of the famous Geographer of the King, Gilles Robert de Vaugondy, thus ensuring the continuity of Nicolas Sanson's reputation in the field of cartography.


Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville left an indelible mark on the world of 17th century cartography. His early passion for cartography, hard work and exceptional talent made him one of the most renowned cartographers of his time. His legacy lives on through the generations, through his sons and those who have continued his work. Thus, Nicolas Sanson remains an emblematic figure of French cartography, whose maps continue to inspire and inform to this day.

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