Abraham Ortelius created the first Atlas

Ortelius et Astrolabe

The very first Atlas is the work of a Belgian born in Antwerp, his name is Abraham Ortelius.

Abraham Ortelius

Abraham Ortelius'life

Abraham Ortelius comes from a Protestant family. Her father, an antique dealer, and man of letters, spoke several languages. His linguistic qualities led him to participate in the translation of the English Bible, in secret. Indeed, the recognized religion in Europe is Catholicism, and the Protestants were persecuted.

When his father died, Abraham was only 12 years old. His uncle will take care of him. It will form in the middle of engraving and illuminating cards. Passionate about his work, he began to attend book fairs and buy all the cards he found. At that time, he met an illustrious person, Gerardus Mercator.

Gerardus Mercator is a Belgian renowned for his skills in mathematics, but especially as a cartographer. We’re still talking about the Mercator projection today. When he met Ortelius, Mercator had just released his map of Europe. The two men quickly became friends.

Gerardus Mercator portrait

Antique dealer

He is a person specialized in the sale and purchase of old objects.


A branch of the Catholic religion but which rejects the authority of the Pope.


It is an artisanal or industrial technique that consists in digging in a material to create an image or a text.


It is the art that is interested in decorating books, cards with miniatures, frames, etc.

Theatrum orbis terrarum d'Ortelius

Ortelius knows that maps are fragile and difficult to handle. Also, and with his experience, he decides to trace maps himself, adding a lot of details and collecting them in a large book, called an atlas.

In 1570, he had the first atlas of the world printed in Antwerp, gathering 53 maps and the list of all the authors consulted. It was an immediate success and the first ones sold like hotcakes in just a few weeks.

Theatrum orbis terrarum
Ortelius tombstone visible at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Antwerp

Very quickly, other cartographers joined him to improve his work and his atlases were translated into different languages such as French, German and Latin.

And that’s how Ortelius made his fortune. Today, his tomb can be visited in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp.

Abraham Ortelius

April 14, 1527

death date illu

June 28, 1598