Hidden Belgium: Mercator statue

Hidden Belgium: Mercator statue

The mapmaker Mercator began his life in 1512 in the small river port of Rupelmonde, not far from Antwerp.

His statue stands in front of the church on the main square. But the plaque on the statue doesn’t mention that he was accused of heresy and imprisoned for seven months in Rupelmonde castle. Shaken by the experience, Mercator eventually fled to the more tolerant Duisburg in Germany.

A skilled engraver, cartographer and mathematician, he designed inexpensive globes and created his first world map at the age of 25. His aim was to aid navigation along trade routes by converting the globe into a flat map.

His invention, known as the Mercator projection, allowed sailors to plot routes using straight rulers. It has been used for more than 400 years to create navigation charts, school atlases and even Google maps.

But there is a problem with the Mercator projection. It placed Antwerp at the centre of the world, exaggerated the size of Europe and North America, and shrunk the size of Africa and South America.

Critics now complain that Mercator’s maps reinforced European colonial attitudes. And yet, without the mapmaker from Rupelmonde, we would all be lost.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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