L'histoire captivante des cartes marines anciennes

The captivating history of ancient nautical charts

Welcome to the fascinating world of old nautical charts! These precious testimonies of the history of navigation have evolved over the centuries, going from simple approximate representations to sophisticated navigation tools. In this article, we'll go back in time to discover the origins of nautical charts, delve into the golden age of cartography during the 1800s, and explore modern nautical charts used today. Prepare to embark on an exciting journey across the oceans and the history of the intrepid explorers who crossed them!

The Origins of Ancient Nautical Charts

The origins of nautical charts date back to ancient times, where sailors used rudimentary charts to navigate the seas. However, it was in the 18th century that nautical charts experienced a real revolution thanks to the creation of the Depot of Marine Maps and Plans. In 1720, in France, Louis XV and his Marine Council founded this revolutionary institution which aimed to centralize cartographic knowledge and produce precise maps to support navigators in their maritime explorations.
The Marine Depot thus made it possible to standardize marine cartography techniques and improve the quality of the maps produced. These maps were essential for navigation, allowing sailors to find their way at sea, avoid dangers and find new trade routes. Thanks to advances in marine cartography, explorers were able to venture further and discover new lands.
Navy Depot Card
Detail of a map of the Marine Depot

The golden age of nautical charts

The 18th and 19th centuries were a golden age for marine cartography, marked by important advances and discoveries. Many intrepid explorers have crisscrossed the oceans, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and mapping previously unknown regions.
One of the most famous names from this era is that of James Cook. This British explorer made three major voyages of exploration between 1768 and 1779, charting large areas of the South Pacific, including the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. Cook brought precision and scientific rigor to his surveys, thus creating highly precise nautical charts.
Another important explorer is Alexander von Humboldt. This German scientist undertook a scientific expedition to South America between 1799 and 1804, mapping the regions of the Amazon and the Andes. His surveys made it possible to create detailed nautical charts of these regions, thus contributing to the expansion of geographical knowledge.
Another emblematic figure of this era is Matthew Fontaine Maury. This American naval officer carried out in-depth studies on ocean currents, winds and shipping routes. His research led to the publication of "The Physical Geography of the Sea" in 1855, which revolutionized marine cartography by providing essential information to navigators.

Nautical Charts Today

Today, nautical charts have undergone a radical transformation thanks to technological advances. Traditional mapping techniques have been replaced by more sophisticated methods and digital tools.
Bathymetric surveys are now carried out using multibeam sonars, making it possible to obtain precise data on the seabed. Satellite positioning systems, such as GPS, have revolutionized navigation by providing precise location in real time. This gives sailors valuable information to avoid dangers and plan their routes.
Modern marine charts also incorporate real-time weather information, recommended routes and interactive features. Additionally, with the advent of applications and electronic devices, mariners can access nautical charts on digital screens, making them easier to use on board ships.
Detail of an old nautical map
Detail of an old nautical map
Organizations such as the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) or the Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service play an essential role in the production and updating of nautical charts. They work with governments and national agencies to ensure the reliability and accuracy of nautical charts used today.


From the modest nautical charts of the past to the modern, sophisticated nautical charts of today, the history of nautical cartography is an exciting journey through the centuries. The origins of nautical charts with the creation of the Marine Depot paved the way for daring explorations and major discoveries. During the 1800s, explorers such as James Cook, Alexander von Humboldt, and Matthew Fontaine Maury pushed the boundaries of marine cartography. Today, thanks to technological advances, nautical charts are more accurate and accessible than ever, providing mariners with an essential tool for navigating safely.
Don't hesitate to discover my old nautical charts !
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