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Cartographica Helvetica


Theme: The Matterhorn depicted in maps

Cartographica Helvetica 51 (2015)


Since the spectacular first ascent of the Matterhorn – and at the same time the first Alpine drama in Zermatt – took place on July 14th 150 years ago, this anniversary was chosen as the theme of this issue of Cartographica Helvetica. The Swiss Society of Cartography is taking advantage of this opportunity to present a historic cartographic publication on the occasion of the International Map Year.

The Valais had aroused the attention of historians and cartographers already in the 16th century. In his Cosmographia, Sebastian Münster published in 1545 in Basel a rich description of the Valais, supplemented by a topographic map in two sheets (Upper and Lower Valais) created by Johannes Schalbetter. However, Zermatt itself remained practically unknown, and until 1820 there was no known view of Zermatt and its surroundings. This can only be explained by the fact that this valley was left untouched by the routes used for travelling through the Valais and across the passes towards the north and south.

Thus, the young Englishman Edward Whymper initially came to the French Alps to draw sketches of touristically interesting places for the publishing house William Longman. With the first ascent by Whymper and his six companions on July 14th, 1865, and the ensuing catastrophe, a new epoch began for Zermatt. The media spread the news of this incidence across the entire world. But also Whymper himself contributed to the celebrity of Zermatt in his writings and illustrations, for example with his book Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860–69 which he illustrated himself.

In the section entitled «Das Matterhorn kartiert» (The Matterhorn mapped), 40 maps or extracts thereof as well as panoramas and relief models will be presented. These were chosen according to different criteria such as significance, uniqueness, aesthetics and even inaccuracy. Each map includes bibliographic data, the production technique as well as a short comment. With a few exceptions the map extracts are reproduced at the original scale.

The Matterhorn was not yet explicitly recognizable on the first maps. Schalbetter (1545) named a certian Mons Silvius and next to it the Augstal Berg. However, this was an indication of the Theodul Pass which led from Zermatt into the Aosta Valley. Another map of the Valais by Anton Lambien (1682) showed – just as Schalbetter had – a prominent mountain symbol in a side view and named it Matter Dioldin h[orn], and for the first time the name Zermatt. Already two years previously in 1680, the Italian cartographer Giovanni Tomaso Borgonio had named the mountain M. Servino in his Carta Generale de Stati di Sua Altezza Reale. Another 100 years later Gabriel Walser (1768) named it Matter Horn alias Mons Sil=vius Germ. Augst Thal Berg and called the pass on the Theodul Glacier Pass in das Augst Thal. In the atlas by Joseph Edmund Woerl (1835/36), the Matterhorn od. gr. Mt. Cervin is described as 'inaccessible' and the Matterjoch as 'passable' in July and August.

Of interest are also the trigonometric and topographic surveying methods used over a period of 200 years to determine the exact height and position of the Matterhorn. Further sections deal with the unique geology of the Matterhorn and the utopian mountain railway projects to its summit.

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