The BnF

Maps and Plans Department

For two centuries, the Department of Maps and plans has been collecting specialized documents in the field, making them available to readers. It is a French pole of excellence recognized at the international level in the field of cartographic and geographic information. It houses collections of atlases, maps, plans, globes, monographs and periodicals, whether from France or foreign countries. Dating back to the Middle-Ages up to the 21st century, they meet the researchers' needs in a wide variety of domains.
Since 1942, the Department has been also housing the collections of the Société de Géographie: printed documents, photographs, manuscripts...
The reading room is open to the readers of the Research Library; the consultation of certain documents is possible only after an interview with a librarian.

Collections of the Maps and Plans Department

Terrestrial globe, aka Globe de Rouen, engraved copper, 16th century.

Terrestrial globe, aka Globe de Rouen, engraved copper, 16th century.

The Maps and Plans Department (département des Cartes et plans) is a center of excellence for the study of geographic materials, notably on the following topics :

In addition to these major topics, materials held by the Maps and Plans Department may be helpful for studying astronomy, exploration, the history of discoveries, the history of photography, the history of cartography, and maritime history.

Alongside a general collection consisting of printed materials and manuscripts (historical collections of the BnF and documents obtained under the legal deposit scheme), various other collections are available:

  • the d’Anville collection, 10 500 maps from the 16th to the 18th century,
  • the Service hydrographique de la Marine (SHM : Navy hydrographic office) collection , more than 30 000 nautical maps form the 14th century to the present day, 
  • geographers’ and explorers’ archives and manuscripts (François de Dainville, Bernard Kayser, Jean Gottmann, Henri de Monfreid, Charles de Foucauld…), the Zellidja foundation travel diaries,
  • 145 000 photographs of the Société de géographie (French geographical society), shot between 1850 and 1950 during world-wide travels,
  • the world’s most extensive portolans collection, 435 nautical charts on parchment, dating from the 13th to the 18th century, 
  • 180 globes, terrestrial or celestial spheres …

More than 130 000 monographs and 400 journals help readers use and understand cartographic and iconographic documents.


Stillfried, Raimund von (1839-1911). Japanese warrior, 1875.

Stillfried, Raimund von (1839-1911). Japanese warrior, 1875.

Since 1942, the department has been the custodian of the collections of the Société de géographie, built up since its founding in 1821. They considerably grew in the 20th century, receiving the library of Prince Roland Bonaparte.

Some of this collection’s most notable documents are sketchbooks of the Sahara by Charles de Foucault, notes on earthquakes by Montessus de Ballore, or Felice Beato’s photographs of Japan.

The Maps and plans teams have been working for several years at uploading digitized corpuses on Gallica. The d'Anville collection and the portolan charts are fully available. The SHM and the general collection are currently being processed. Photographs and manuscripts from the Société de géographie can also be viewed online.

History of the department

The department was founded in 1828 by Edme-François Jomard, a former geographical engineer on the Egyptian expedition. He opened up to the public a unique location dedicated to the development of geographical science and the preservation of atlases, globes and scientific instruments, maps and plans, be they handwritten or printed, single-page or bound, on parchment or on paper.

This initial effort to collect, describe and provide to the public has gone on and grown through the decades. Two centuries later, the Maps and plans department is the French premier ressource center for research on cartographic and geographical matters.

Since 1954, the department has been based in the main body of the hôtel Tubeuf , renovated by architect Michel Roux-Spitz to be more functional for readers and staff alike. The original Louis XIII period architecture can still be admired, notably a coffered ceiling with the arms of cardinal Mazarin.

For more info

History of the BnF


  • Monique Pelletier, Couleurs de la Terre : des mappemondes médiévales aux images satellitales. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1998
  • Olivier Loiseaux, Trésors photographiques de la Société de géographie. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Glénat, 2006
  • Olivier Loiseaux, Le département des Cartes et plans de la BnF : ses collections et leur traitement. Villeurbanne, ENSSIB, 2007
  • Catherine Hofmann et Hélène Richard, Les globes de Louis XIV : étude artistique, historique et matérielle. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2012
  • Catherine Hofmann, Hélène Richard, Emmanuelle Vagnon, L'âge d'or des cartes marines. Quand l'Europe découvrait le monde. Seuil : Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2012

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

See also


Eve Netchine
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