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500 years of Mercator

Mercator's 1569 world map

Gerardus Mercator was a geographer, cartographer, scientific instrument maker and mathematician. Born on 5 March 1512, his mapping technique, the Mercator projection, changed the way people looked at the world. The quality of his maps was the envy of generations of mapmakers. His legacy, his projection of the world globe onto a map, is still used today for navigation purposes, on sea, in the air and for GPS car, cycling and walking navigation applications. To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Mercator’s birth, SteM, the urban museum of Sint-Niklaas, is organising an eye-catching exhibition, a series of lectures, and an international cartographic conference.

The centrepiece is the Mercator Digitaal exhibition, which opens on 4 March. The highlights are Mercator’s original earth globe from 1541, his celestial globe from 1551, and a series of his atlases. Seven kiosks bring a digital presentation of various aspects of Mercator’s life and work into a contemporary context. The 51 constellations of his celestial globe are illuminated one by one, and the secrets of the world famous Mercator projection are explained.

In video clips, Flemish actor Vic De Wachter assumes the role of Mercator and takes you to the places where he lived and worked. Fifteen contemporaries of Mercator including his first wife, fellow cartographers and key patrons are also “interviewed” to bring Mercator’s works to life.

Mercator's 1569 world mapInteractive touch-screens give you a unique opportunity to digitally page through three Mercator atlases dating back to 1584, 1595 and 1607. There is also access to the digital map of Flanders (1540). Here you can zoom in on historical maps and recent topographic aerial photographs.

That’s not all. There is also an exhibit of Mercator’s own library, touristic walks, a Kinetic Art Project “Homo Universalis” and an international cartographic conference organised in collaboration with the SteM and University of Ghent. In addition, events for younger children include workshops in which they can draw their own maps, while older children can create a map using triangulation.

There is also a series of lectures for adults describing details of the original Mercator items on display and subjects related to cartography. Most of the lectures are in Dutch but the one by Professor Gerry Brotton from Queen Mary University of London on 24 April is in English. Entitled “Mapping the World: From the Greeks to Google Earth” it will cover the evolution of our world from a map in a book to the digital processing of space images.

And if you still have a thirst for more Mercator related knowledge, then there is the 4-day international conference “Mercator Revisited — Cartography in the Age of Discovery” which will be held from 25-28 April.

Where to stay in Sint-Niklaas

If you want to stay in Sint-Niklaas for the Mercator Digitaal exhibition — or simply to check out the sights of this pleasant city and its surroundings, I can heartily recommend Hotel Moon Eat Sleep. Located centrally in Sint-Niklaas, yet in a quiet neighbourhood, its five rooms are spotless, spacious, luxuriously decorated and well equipped (e.g. wireless internet and tea/coffee making facilities). Owner Tania is friendly and helpful and will ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible. She will also answer all your questions about where to shop, eat, relax etc.

The hotel is also ideal for business travellers wanting to stay in a more “homely” environment than an anonymous large chain hotel. In this respect it’s ideally located for business visitors to Antwerp, Ghent and Mechelen. A final advantage is that the attached lunch room does not only serve a scrumptious breakfast but is open until 17:00, making it a great place for your business lunch meetings. Here are some pictures of Hotel Moon Eat Sleep (click to view in full size):

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