A decade after Columbus sailed across the Atlantic, explorers were still speculating about the contours of the New World. Today’s experts remain uncertain about when, exactly, Europeans first set foot in La Florida, but in 1511, a historian named Pieter Martyr labeled the unknown land north of Cuba “Isla de Beimeni,” the native Indian name for what is now Florida.
Martyr’s hand-drawn sketch is just one of more than 150 maps featured in Charting the Land of Flowers: 500 Years of Florida Maps, opening Sept. 21 at the Tampa Bay History Center. One of the most comprehensive exhibitions of Florida cartography ever presented, Charting the Land of Flowers traces six centuries of Florida history, bringing together maps from museum and library collections around the world, many of which will be on view to the public for the first time.
The exhibit offers viewers a rare opportunity to see the world as early European explorers saw it, and to watch the peninsula that would become one of the South’s most populous states evolve before their eyes. They’ll see that much of the earliest European exploration of North America occurred not in New England, but in Florida and the Southeast, while early railroad maps and tourist brochures vibrantly illustrate Florida’s evolution into America’s No. 1 tourist destination.
Charting includes rare maps from the Library of Congress, on view to the public for the first time. They include a manuscript map from 1639, and another of what was once referred to as East Florida, from 1823.
Intricate and often vibrant ― pink, red, and purple hues abound ― the maps in Charting the Land of Flowers are as much works of art as they are historical documents. Together with atlases, city maps, nautical charts, and satellite images, they chart 500 years of exploration, settlement, and growth in The Land of Flowers.
Charting the Land of Flowers: 500 Years of Florida Maps is on exhibit Sept. 21, 2013 through Feb. 16, 2014, at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water Street.
Select maps featured in the exhibition include:
- 1513 Tabula Terre Nove; Portrays the world as it was known at the time of the Ponce de Leon’s Florida landing.
- 1601 Description del Destricto del Avdiencia de la Espanóla; First printed map on which the name “Tampa” appears.
- 1786 Maritime Observations in a Letter by Benjamin Franklin; Includes “A Chart of the Gulf Stream.”
- 1838 First known map of the city of Tampa.
- 1864 “The Capture of Tampa Bay, Florida;” Shows the Union capture of Tampa.
- 1917 American Automobile Association (AAA); Early Florida road map.
- 2009 NASA view of Florida from Space, taken by astronaut and Clearwater resident Nicole Stott.