Picture = 1000 words, map = at least 250*

This has taken quite a bit of work:

Map of central Osona and the Ripollès, Catalunya, <i>c. </i>950

Map of central Osona and the Ripollès, Catalunya, c. 950

Most of the maps for the upcoming book were done for me by a contact of my editor, although I had to finish them off in Photoshop because he didn’t know Catalan and struggled with accents and so on. This one however he had trouble with and I had to do it myself. I had wanted to include an eight hundred meter contour line which would make the Castell de Gurb really stick out from its surroundings as it does if you’re there, but though Google Earth includes such contour lines it only does so at certain zooms and I found it much too hard to apply data points that close to something this much smaller-scale, which in any case is already using all the shades of grey that a printing process can sensibly discriminate. The abandonment of that aim however has meant that I was able to include far more range, including getting Sant Joan de les Abadesses and Vic onto the same map, meaning that this map essentially details the core study area of the book and will be useful to me again and again. And, as I’m sure you may know, but people who do it will be happy to tell you lots more, the actual working out where things are in relation to each other can constitute a kind of historical revelation in itself, though not so much as going there and seeing of course. Explaining why it’s so interesting how Corcó fits into the landscape as it does and that there’s no castle at its centre would be a very abstruse digression, but trust me it matters and if you read the eventual book you’ll see why. And the fact that some places (Taradell for example) are very decentralised—the label covers the castle and both churches—whereas others (Orsal, Tona, Roda) are basically confined to a hill and its shadow is something that probably actually contains the seeds for future work.

We are, for reference, talking about here:

(Did I tell you all I have a contract now, by the way? I don’t believe I did. I have a contract for the book.)

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to you to explain roughly how I did it. There are thankfully decent historical maps of this area, as a commentator here has pointed out, but none of their maps had everything on that I wanted to include: heights, castles and churches, mainly. So I (I admit) scanned several of those maps and then manipulated them in Photoshop, at 50% opacity so they could all be seen through each other, till they were the same scale, largely by lining up the complicated river patterns. Interesting to note that they didn’t all agree about where the rivers went… Anyway. What I should then have done is about half of what I did, which was print the resulting mess out, put a transparency sheet over it, and then simply trace on that with a Sharpie ™ all the lines I wanted to use, and distinctive marks for the castle locations. I actually should have done the contours and rivers and points on three separate overlays, because what I did afterwards was to use imaging tools to fill in all the areas in appropriate shades of grey and this would have been far easier if I’d done it before I put in the rivers. Anyway, I scanned the transparency at high resolution on our best scanner at work, which has gear to do transparencies, and then filled in the greys in software, and with that done then added, by reference to a different map from any of my sources, the cities, the castles and then the churches, and then labelled everything. That was actually the most frustrating part of the process, because again my sources were the wrong scale and I had to keep flipping pages and finding I’d put wrong labels on things which then had to have the colour replaced around them and so on, in software so ‘heavily featured’ that the foreground/background values it requires for adding shading, shapes and text are all different. But after, I suppose, four or five hours’ work total, which had, given my life, to be spread over two weeks, the result is as you see above, except at 600 dpi, much large and in TIFF format. And, you know, I drew it, which for the kid who was useless at art and can only draw anything in profile or one quarter rotated and then only if it’s square, is a small achievement. Granted, I have fortunate access to a very high-end scanner in a workplace where people don’t mind me occasionally using their tech to my own fiendish purposes, but there is behind this a basic process that most if not all of you can probably manage if you ever need to. And you may find it helps.

* because if you’ve done it right a map should admit far less exegesis…

16 responses to “Picture = 1000 words, map = at least 250*

  1. Sharp map!!

    Congrats on the contract, and on doing something yourself you probably didn’t think you could do.

  2. Many thanks on all counts!

  3. Excellent news! clearly we need to buy each other drinks!

  4. Congratulations on the contract! Lovely maps.

    • I’ve completely borrowed the style from the guy who started them off, but that’s because it works and I wanted mine to look consistent. I’m happy with it, anyway.

  5. Yay for the contract!

    Stylish maps: even I, a total geography-phobe could understand them… I think…

  6. Hy!

    I’m an historician and archaeologist who lives in Osona, doing the arhaeology master of Barcelona University. I’ve detected a toponimic error in the map: Torrello is Torelló.

    Now I’m working with early medieval fortifications, including the carolingian towers. I wonder if you could give some bibliografical references about this theme, because in the Universitat of Barcelona, we haven’t had any resource.


    • Drat it, there had to be one typo. Thankyou for the warning, I’ll correct it. May I also congratulate you on your readiness to use English, I think you are the first Catalan commentator I’ve had here to do so. This is the kind of feedback I like!

      As for the castles, I think your basic reference is probably still Antoni Pladevall’s seven-volume Els Castells Catalans but for individual sites the Catalunya Romànica, which despite its name goes back as far as it can with each site, is invaluable, and also beautifully illustrated. A Google search for the former also reveals the more up-to-date Manuel Riu & Carmen Battle i Gallart (edd.), Castells, guaites, torres i fortaleses de la Catalunya medieval, Acta Mediævalia Annexos 3 (Barcelona 1987). How’s that for starters? There’s only, what, 35 volumes there all told :-) If you find anything else that’s specifically about the Carolingian towers, though, please let me know, as I only know about the Castell de Tona and that isn’t really very Carolingian…

  7. I found Google Maps invaluable for estimating sailing distances in my work! Would have been hours in the library with a pair of metal dividers otherwise. I have a scan from the trusty moleskine posted on my site:


    • Not sure that’s something you couldn’t have done with a regular atlas and a bit of arithmetic myself, but I agree it makes this sort of thing a lot easier. Though with Venice you wind up with the awkward problem of what bits of it were above water in 828, compared to what’s on the map now!

  8. Quite true! Ri’alto had just come out of the water and Malamocco was still above (no one is quite sure what that one looked like) This is something I have to keep in mind for my current project — a serial webnovel prequel (http://www.saintmarksbody.com/buono) covering Pepin’s invasion of 809-810. This fight is of course the event that causes the Partecipazios to move the capital and start reclaiming the Ri’alto.

    • Has much been done with the archæology of that period in the last few years? I did some looking at it in my Masters course and it was very hard to find much, especially in English. The scholarship in English on Venice generally seemed to be worryingly old. Maybe things have changed?

      • I found practically nothing: bad for a scholar, but it allows a novelist to write without much fear of contradiction! Most of the scholarship I found focused on Venice at its late-medieval height. There was a lot more to read about the Franks and the Caliph, which is why I brought them into the story.

  9. Pingback: Well, what would you recommend, Dr Jarrett? No. 1 of an indefinite series « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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