Imagine where we’d be without maps. Lands wouldn’t be delimited, so we wouldn’t know how to get from one city to another in our own country. Never mind getting to a foreign land. Even the sky has its own map, guiding travelers at sea. Without it, many would get lost. Today, it is easy to take world atlases for granted. If we leave the house without our phone or a GPS and start exploring another country, I think our appreciation for maps will strongly come back. Thanks to the navigation app on my phone, I could easily find the Museum of Old Maps in Bucharest. Here, I traced the world with my fingertips, and I invite you to do the same.
While walking through Bucharest’s old streets, the architecture of different buildings makes some houses stand out. Today, they are foreign embassies, hotels, or museums. On one of these streets, one can even find Europe's oldest traditional hotel, Manuc's Inn. Not too far from the inn is the Museum of Old Maps. The museum doesn’t stand out, but entering it is worthwhile. The building which houses the museum is a simple one, with few Gothic elements. Once you enter, it’s like the air shifts and an ambiance perfect for exploring lays before you.
The museum has tall ceilings with murals, stained glass windows, and an extensive collection of old maps. Some maps are of the territory of Romania, of how it all shifted across history until the country became what it is today. Other maps show the world, the stars, or city plans. The collection has charts dating back to the 16th century, illustrating how the actions of our forefathers molded the globe.
Cartographers made the first maps a long time ago, using stones, bones, and animal skins as their canvases. Later on, those maps were manually drawn on parchment paper and duplicated, so that more than one person could have access to them. The museum’s oldest map and most prized possession is one created on wood by Lorenz Friesz in 1525, depicting the once Central Europe.
A team of artists made the murals and stained glass windows that are the eye-catchers of the museum. Some of the artists were Benone Șuvăilă (stained glass artist), Marcel Aciocoiței, Gheorghe Butnariu, and Neculai Mirodoni. The murals were inspired by mythology and astronomy, while the stained glass windows have cartographic and heraldic (portraying coats of arms and emblems of houses) illustrations.
Visiting this museum can be an enlightening experience. There is something there for everyone, even for children. It is not uncommon to see kids laying on their backs on the floor and looking at the colorful ceilings. The little ones also have a dedicated room created to raise their curiosity when it comes to maps. They have puzzles and various other games which make them run around the halls, searching for the coolest looking chart.
One doesn’t need to be a map aficionado to enjoy Bucharest’s Museum of Old Maps. The stained glass windows, murals, and old charts can make anyone want to pay a visit to this museum and trace the world and its development. Even if we sometimes don’t realize it, maps had great importance in history and continue to guide us wherever we need to go. Let them guide you here, to this Gothic-styled building, which will enrichen your world the moment you enter.
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