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Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘satellite map’ of Imola. Source: Wallpaper Flare.

How Leonardo da Vinci Made a "Satellite" Map in 1502 (Video)


In 1502, while working as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia, Leonardo da Vinci undertook the task of creating a unique map of Imola. At the time, the prevailing maps were depicted in a birds eye or hillside view, often embellished with mythical creatures. These maps, though visually appealing, lacked accuracy and clarity, especially for military operations. Leonardo aimed to create an "ichnographic" map, where everything appeared as if viewed from directly above, providing a clearer representation. Without access to modern satellites, Leonardo relied on his ingenuity and symbolic imagination. Using a disk instrument to measure degrees and a compass to record orientations, he meticulously charted the angles and distances of Imola's streets and walls.

By pacing out the distances on foot or employing an odometer-like device, Leonardo established the necessary scale. The resulting map was a testament to his method, showcasing the potential of ichnographic mapping. While Leonardo's Imola map had its quibbles and artistic embellishments, it marked a pivotal transition from maps steeped in myth and perception to those focused on conveying accurate information. Leonardo's innovative approach laid the groundwork for subsequent generations of mapmakers, paving the way for the detailed and accurate satellite maps we use today.

Top image: Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘satellite map’ of Imola. Source: Wallpaper Flare.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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