Mappy Hour

Mappy Hour: A Cartographic History of Ukraine

As Russia continues their belligerent posturing along the Ukraine eastern border (and now on Ukraine’s northern border with Belorussia, where Putin has begun positioning even more troops), it’s helpful to understand the history of Ukraine’s borders in the political and cultural fluidity that characterizes central Europe. (Let’s be serious – fluidity across all of Europe, which is why the place is so freaking interesting from a historical and cartographic perspective.)

Our buddy, Jim, who also follows WolfeStreetTravel, recently recommended this really compelling Washington Post article from 2015 on the evolution of Ukraine’s territory and borders. This article was published when Putin was previously taking aggressive actions to absorb Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula into mother Russia. Definitely recommended reading for anyone following the crisis unfolding around Ukraine.

The Washington Post’s resident cartographer, Gene Thorp, developed for the article several really helpful and really compelling maps depicting how Ukraine’s territory transformed over the centuries as empires, warring factions, and treaty agreements changed. To wit:

Catherine the Great’s encroachment into what previously was either sovereign Ukrainian territory or land ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th century. (WolfeStreetTravel previously included latter in another Mappy Hour post on the evolution of Europe during the Brexit buildup.)

Or, a severed Ukraine after the post-WW I Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, where Poland wound up with most of western Ukraine, including the major city of Lviv, but lost the territory during the Russian civil war, after which Ukraine joined the USSR as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic within the union.

The body of the article includes more maps and some really great context for how and why Ukraine looked like it did at different times during the last 1000+ years, as well as how the native people of Ukraine changed due to Soviet actions. Good stuff!

Categories: Mappy Hour, Maps and Miscellany | Leave a comment

We Missed a Micronation!

Our friend Bill last night forwarded an article on a micronation previously unknown to us that we totally could have visited during our Tiniest 5 for the Big 5-0 trip in 2017. During that trip, we drove to all five European continental micronations – Vatican City, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and Andorra.

We totally missed the Principality of Seborga!

The micronation (merely self-proclaimed, to be sure) is enclaved within Italy, just like San Marino:

Seborga’s claim that their principality is an independent nation and not a part of Italy is based on a sale document that was never fully executed in 1729:

“Allegedly on 20 January 1729, this independent principality was sold to the Savoy dynasty and became a protectorate of theirs. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna overlooked Seborga in its redistribution of European territories after the Napoleonic Wars, and there is no mention of Seborga in the Act of Unification for the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. . . The argument for Seborga’s present-day status as an independent state is based on the claim that the 1729 sale was never registered by its new owners, resulting in the principality falling into what has been described as a legal twilight zone.”

The principality is not recognized diplomatically, and so does not meet one of the actual micronation definition. However, Seborga does indulge in micronation practices, such as producing their own currency, that we’ve seen in other self-proclaimed tiny countries, like the Republic of Vevčani in North Macedonia, where we began our third day of riding during our Biking the Balkans trip earlier this year.

The micronation also is located in the extreme west of Italy, just ~12 miles from Monaco, so we totally could have visited Seborga in 2017 . . .

A fuller history and an absolutely entertaining read on the Principality of Seborga (and the reigning prince) can be found here, on Vice.

Thanks, Bill, for the great story – we’ll try to drop by the principality the next time we’re in the area!

Categories: Mappy Hour, Maps and Miscellany | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Mappy Hour: Independent from Spain? One Catalonian Town Already Is (Geographically, at Least)

Events swirling around Catalonia’s lurch toward independence from Spain accelerated rapidly today. Catalonia’s Parliament declared independence and Spain reacted by suspending the region’s government, taking over Catalonia’s police, and calling for December elections.

In the meantime, as the New York Times reported today, the Catalonian town of Llivia has been independent from Spain for 350 years. Geographically, the town is located entirely within France:

The NYT reports that, with regard to independence, “for Llivia, a quaint town tucked about 4,000 feet up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, an important part of that decision was made centuries ago. Llivia is already separated from Spain physically: The five-square-mile municipality is a geographic anomaly resulting from a quirk of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, which settled a more-than-two-decade round of fighting between Spain and France.

Only “villages,” according to the treaty, were to be ceded to the French crown. Llivia was considered a town, not a village, and so remained part of Spain, and the region of Catalonia.”

Catalonia est non Espana! And, if Catalonia does indeed secede, Llivia won’t be Catalonia (on a map, anyway).

The cartographic coolness never ends.

Categories: Mappy Hour, Maps and Miscellany | 4 Comments

Mappy Hour: Catalonia’s Not the Only European Area Agitating for Autonomy

After an aborted referendum and multiple protests, Catalonia’s president today may or may not have announced that the region will pursue independence (it was so ambiguous that Spain requested that he clarify what he’s actually trying to say). The Washington Post has helpfully published an update on some previous articles they’ve posted on the other restless regions across Europe.

The disappointingly brief article included the usual suspects, including Scotland, Flanders, and the Basque region. However, it also introduced a few we hadn’t known about earlier, including South Tyrol (a German-speaking region in Italy that previously was part of Austria prior to WW I) and the Faroe Islands, who are itching to throw off the distant Danish yoke.

A good quick read if you like European history and geography!

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Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Day 5 of the micronations road trip took us to a halfway point between Liechtenstein and our next target, the Principality of Monaco. The halfway point we selected was Lake Lugano, Switzerland (which brought our country count for just 5 days of the trip to five, as it happens . . .). GPS route for the day’s drive:

As some have noted, this blog has a particular interest in geography and geographic anomalies. Lake Lugano played to this interest. Although the type of geographical anomaly there is very unusual, we had nonetheless encountered this type of anomaly twice already during the trip: an enclave.

The Italian commune of Campione on Lake Lugano lies entirely inside the Swiss canton of Ticino. The map below shows Swizerland in pink and Lake Lugano in deep blue. The enclaved Italian commune isolated entirely inside of Switzerland is in the southeast section of the lake:

Unlike the enclaves of Vatican City and San Marino, where an entire nation resided inside another country, this enclave represented just a tiny piece of Italy, very similar to the Spanish town (or Catalonian town, if you side with the secessionists there) of Livia stuck inside of France, which we blogged about last year.

Although we’ve only been posting information on why things still exist on the micronation blogs themselves, we figured this enclave deserved some detail, so here’s the explanation for why it exists, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“In the first century BC the Romans founded the garrison town of Campilonum to protect their territories from Helvetii invasions.

In 777, Toto of Campione, a local Lombard lord, left his inheritance to the archbishopric of Milan. Ownership was transferred to the abbey of Sant’Ambrogio. In 1512, the surrounding area of Ticino was transferred from the ownership of the bishop of Como to Switzerland by Pope Julius II, as thanks for support in the War of the Holy League. However, the abbey maintained control over what is now Campione d’Italia and some territory on the western bank of Lake Lugano.

When Ticino chose to become part of the Swiss Confederation in 1798, the people of Campione chose to remain part of Lombardy. In 1800, Ticino proposed exchanging Indemini for Campione. In 1814 a referendum was held, and the residents of Campione opposed it. In 1848, during the wars of Italian unification, Campione petitioned Switzerland for annexation. This was rejected due to the Swiss desire for neutrality.

After Italian unification in 1861, all land west of Lake Lugano and half of the lake were given to Switzerland so that Swiss trade and transport would not have to pass through Italy. The d’Italia was added to the name of Campione in the 1930s by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and an ornamental gate to the city was built. This was to assert the exclave’s Italian-ness.”

On to our day in Lake Lugano.

First, we definitely picked the right place to stay – spectacular views of the lake:

And a complementary electric Smart Car for forays down to the lake . . .

Along the lake . . .

The Romanesque Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli on the shores of the lake:

The church was built in 1499 in recognition of the cessation of conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines and to thank the Observant Franciscans for their work during the plague of 1498. It features a very busy 15th century fresco by a student of Leonardo da Vinci that’s still perfectly intact and considered to be one of the best examples of art during the Lombard Renaissance.

Heading back to The View in our sweet ride:

Incredible dinner outside at The View, overlooking Lake Lugano:


Unbeknownst to us, August 1 is Swiss National Day, so not only did we have a sweet dinner overlooking the lake, but got to experience a great fireworks display, to boot.



Categories: Mappy Hour, Maps and Miscellany, Micronations!, Switzerland | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mappy Hour: Evolution of the National Mall

The Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History & Culture opens on September 24 – the latest structure to be added to the National Mall in DC. The Washington Post this week published a series of maps that depict the 200-year evolution of the Mall, from swamp to canals to a railway station to “temporary” WW II offices that stuck around until the 1970s.

Excerpts from the excellent article are below. The full story and 8 intriguing maps can be found here.

The Mall in 1860, before land was reclaimed for the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and when a canal snaked to within blocks of the capital:


The Mall in 1940, when temporary WW II offices crowded the north side of the reflecting pool:


The Mall today, with the addition of the new National Museum of African American History & Culture immediately to the northeast of the Washington Monument:


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Mappy Hour: On the Eve of the Brexit Vote, a Cartographic Summary of Prior European Unions

This Thursday, Britain votes to remain in the European Union or to simply Brexit, stage left. In advance of Britain’s vote, which could reshape Europe once again, the Washington Post helpfully published today a very cool history of other amalgamations of European countries (or kingdoms, empires, grand duchies . . .) that resulted in past European unions.

The full article is here. Below are some blasts from the past that highlight previous combinations of territory that have shaped the political makeup of Europe. These selections include:

The predictable . . .



The combinations we learned in school, but immediately forgot . . .



And the obscure and charmingly insignificant . . .



For the record, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth apparently existed between the 14th and 18th centuries.

And it even included a Grand Duchy.

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Mappy Hour: Ben Carson’s America and Other Hilarious Maps

The Washington Post today reported on an awkward cartographic flub on a map of the U.S. by Carson’s staff. The graphic was meant to identify the states whose governors are opposing immigration by Syrian refugees. Not sure whether this goal was achieved, but we did learn from Dr. Carson’s new geography that:

  • Maine has invaded Canada,
  • “Vermont and New York now have hundreds of miles of new beachfront property,”and
  • Massachusetts apparently wants to be much closer to the Canucks up north, as well.

Carson America

Carson’s poorly assembled jigsaw map of the states was only mildly humorous. The far funnier element of the article is this link at the end to “27 hilariously bad maps that explain nothing” compiled by Vox. The absolute best of the bunch is this Aussie’s attempt at labeling American states:

Aussie Map



Categories: Mappy Hour, Maps and Miscellany | 2 Comments

Mappy Hour: “What’s across the Ocean from You when You’re at the Beach?”

More maps! What could be better?

Seasonal applicability, that’s what.

As a contrast to our more typical random interest in intriguing maps, this post features cartographic insight that’s particularly applicable in August, the last month to fit in some beach time during summer vacation.

Ever wonder what’s out there when you gaze out at the ocean while laying out at the beach? Of course not! You just want to relax, not answer asinine questions.

Nonetheless, the friendly folks at The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog have now answered this question that no one was asking (but that we now find intriguing).

Here’s a quick view of the East Coast:

Across the Ocean

Boston – home to a record-breaking 110.6 inches of snow this season – is across from . . . balmy Spain. Who knew? The other maps present additional perspectives, both globally and by continent (and the West Coast).

The full article is available here. The coolest figure provides the “across the ocean” view for the entire Western Hemisphere:


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Mappy Hour: A Cartographic Cavalcade (More Maps)

As a follow-up to the previous post, herewith are:

A sampling from both of these (biased toward Europe, like our travels have turned out to be . . .) is below. A much wider variety can be found on these sites and the site listed in the previous post.

The ultimate stereotyping map of Europe – use this to plan your next trip! (Based on my family’s idealized perception of the Werners growing up, you’re all from Austria, according to the map.)

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School Bored Panda - Mozilla Firefox 3152015 33544 PM.bmp

The only map you really need when traveling in Europe:

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Pattern of barbarian invasions during the decline of Rome:

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Subsequent Viking invasions and encroachment into the continent:

40 more maps that explain the world - The Washington Post - Mozilla Firefox 3162015 50526 PM.bmp

Prevalence throughout Europe of red hair (natural, I presume, and not the dyed magenta variety we encounter when visiting Central Europe):

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School Bored Panda - Mozilla Firefox 3162015 52503 PM.bmp

A map of locations around the world Europeans actually did discover (inasmuch as they previously were legitimately uninhabited):

40 more maps that explain the world - The Washington Post - Mozilla Firefox 3162015 50434 PM.bmp

A map of all of the countries in the world England has invaded (all but 22, allegedly):

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School Bored Panda - Mozilla Firefox 3162015 52432 PM.bmp

And, finally, a cartographic depiction of how mired in outdated measurement systems we are here:

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School Bored Panda - Mozilla Firefox 3152015 33931 PM.bmp

Categories: Mappy Hour, Maps and Miscellany | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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