Maps are a graphic and metric representation of a region, which can be made on different two-dimensional surfaces, which is generally flat, as may well be paper, although it can be represented in a spherical way, like planet earth.

These have a very particular language and serve to give us exact points of reference. Maps are developed metrically, and their main function is to measure distances and surfaces with great precision, therefore, it provides us with highly useful data for the performance of different activities. With maps we can locate an exact route if the map for example is geographic.

What is the usefulness of maps?

Geographical maps represent the reduced image of the Earth’s surface, which is reduced according to a certain scale. Among the utilities of the maps we can point out:

  • They help determine the distance between geographic objects and estimate the shape of the surface area under study.
  • They can determine the properties of geographic objects.
  • They show how the objects are related to each other. Such as mountains, rivers, forests, etc.
  • With the help of maps, a conclusion can be drawn about the laws of the planet’s surface.

In short, the creation of maps is undoubtedly one of the best inventions so far, as well as being an essential source of information for any human activity. We cannot ignore that technology has given it sophistication, since GPS is a map that allows us to locate ourselves and know which is the indicated path to reach a certain destination.

Who needs geographic maps?

Geographical maps of an area are very useful for travelers and tourists, who, for example, need to find an unknown town or town. The maps are used by teachers and schoolchildren to acquire general knowledge about planet earth at school. Also geographically, meteorologists use maps in compiling meteorological and logistical forecasts for route construction.

Purpose of the maps

Undoubtedly, the objective of the maps is to inform the location of countries, cities, rivers, lakes, islands, etc. Maps also provide information, analysis, ideas, and interpretations about the earth’s geography.

Maps are two-dimensional representations of specific areas of the earth. If there were no maps, everything would be quite complicated, because although with some graphic descriptions we could reach infinities of places, it would not be as precise as using a map to locate ourselves. Maps are very useful elements, thanks to their existence, geographers can visually understand the limitations of the earth’s surface.

How are the maps classified?

There is no universally accepted classification for maps, or map charts, or anything related to them. Despite this, the maps can be divided into two general categories which are:

General or reference maps :

The objective of these maps is to reflect, in an exact and representative way, the relationships of a selection of different geographical features. Such as railways, roads, settlements, elevations, waterways, border lines, and coastline.

Special or thematic maps: It brings all the variety of map designs to suit a certain purpose, which can be easily recognized in advance. Special maps make up the fastest growing segment of the cartography field, because of their hierarchy for development activities. This is the specialty where a greater knowledge of technology, design and especially of the user who uses the map is needed.

Map types

There are a great variety of maps and each one of them shows the main objective according to what it represents. For example, there are maps that represent territorial divisions, others the relief of some place, while there are others that represent travel routes among other things.

Whatever the case, they must have elements such as scale, symbols and title, in order to understand them. Among the types of maps we can find:

  • Physical map: They represent physical characteristics of a territory, such as hydrography, lakes, the coastline, relief, etc.
  • Topographic map: The fundamental function of this map is the position of the terrain. Its shapes are precise and the aspects shown here are depressions, visibility of the terrain, presence of vegetation, roads or buildings.
  • Geological map : It is the image on a topographical plane of the geological changes that arise from the surface of a terrain. For example, tectonic structures (faults, folds, etc.), hydrogeological aspects, fossil deposits, (drainage network, sources etc.)
  • Political map: it is a map that represents the territorial and political divisions of the countries in order to differentiate them from each other. The limitation of these maps is of vital importance, since it helps to distinguish the localities, cities and provinces belonging to the same country.
  • Tourist maps: They show us communication routes, places of historical, cultural, entertainment and hotels, etc.

Elements of a map.

The maps must have various details such as function, symbology, projection, coordinate scales, among other things, so that it can be properly interpreted. Among the elements of the map we have:

  • Title: This is where the content of the map is clearly specified. The function of the title is to understand the cartographic content.
  • Legend: It is the part of the map where the symbols are clarified, for example: signs, roads, reliefs, etc. It is precisely here where the cultural and natural features of the surface it represents are represented.
  • Projection: The meridians and parallels in which the map drawing is executed are explicitly exposed.
  • Scale: Here are explicitly the proportions between what is measured on the terrain and the measure on the map.
  • Geographic coordinates: In this part you can see the latitude and longitude references in detail. These indicate the precise location on a certain place on the planet.
  • Orientation: They are exclusively directional. They indicate where north, south and so on, that is, they indicate the four cardinal points of a specific place or territory.
  • Compass with cardinal points: This is where it is possible to know precisely the direction in which each element is located. All geographic maps must contain embedded compasses.

What is the symbology of the maps?

The conventional symbology that we see in modern maps and plans are symbols that designate different objects on maps. The symbols on large-scale maps are similar to the objects depicted. Houses, for example, are designated with rectangles, the forest is painted green.

The values ​​of the conventional symbols are shown in the legend of the map, so that you can understand their content. With the help of these conventional signs and legends, one can imagine and describe the terrain objects, know their shape, their sizes, some properties, and determine the geographical position.

The symbology of the maps is divided into three types:

Linear symbols :

They represent roads, pipelines, power lines, borders.

Scalar or area symbols:

They are used to scale the image of objects, whose dimensions can be expressed on the scale of a map. Based on the map that the scale uses, these symbols can determine its length, width, and area. Area symbols consist of an outline that is completed with a color. All bodies of water (fresh lakes, salt marshes, seas) on any map have a blue color. Large-scale green areas indicate vegetated areas (forests, shrubs, gardens).

The point symbols (or extra-scale):

They are icons or special drawings. They display small objects (wells, water reservoirs, trees, settlements, mineral deposits on maps). Due to the small size, such objects cannot be expressed on a scale, therefore it is impossible to determine their dimensions from a cartographic image.

World map.

It is a map of the world that provides global information about the earth. It is very useful because it provides a general image of the continents and nations. This cartographic representation provides complete information to understand the planet in its entirety, since it can be seen: the division of the hemispheres, their radius and diameter, the land and water surfaces, time zones, etc.

The world map can be seen in flat form on a paper or globe type, which represents the spherical shape of the earth to scale; or a terrestrial planisphere, which reproduces to scale the theoretical result of some kind of geographical scheme of the world sphere in one plane.

Satelital map

Currently, we have advanced technology such as satellite photography, which makes it easier for us to know the environment of a country as well as other more specific objectives. The satellite map is of high technology and is very useful, for aspects such as:

  • They allow calculations of area distance.
  • A more accurate definition can be given in relation to the relief of the earth.
  • It is used in geophysics and geodesy for the exploration and study of tourist routes and on scientific expeditions.
  • They are used in mobile phones with GPS navigation modules, to provide us with directions to unknown places, etc.


As we can see, cartography has helped human beings to be able to locate themselves on planet earth. Maps are important tools because they give us an idea of ​​how the world is constituted, apart from being essential for the formation of a general and integral culture.

From a geographical point of view, it is fundamentally to know a little more about its boundaries, characteristics, longitudes, latitudes, among other things. Maps revolutionized the way of perceiving space in all its forms, generating a significant change in society.

Samantha Robson
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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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