Riding the wave

In the 18th-century cultural fervor - which brought about the initial cadastral survey of the Italian territory north of the Kingdom of Naples - leading cartographers were tasked by local sovereigns with local maps, topographic maps and nautical charts.

An outstanding example was Giovanni Antonio Rizzi Zannoni (Padova 1736 -Naples 1814), astronomer and mathematician sought-after by governments, before in the service of the Austrians and the French for which, inter alia, produced in 1769, a map of the Neapolitan territory.

He was then called by the Bourbons to establish and direct, in 1781, the Topographical Office of the Kingdom of Naples, among the first state mapping-agencies in Europe, where he produced celebrated land and sea atlases of the Kingdom, as well as a number of loose charts.

The Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy owns two copies of the Atlante Marittimo del Regno delle Due Sicilie ("Maritime Atlas of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies"), engraved by Giuseppe Guerra and published in 1785.

The grandiose title-page was engraved in 1792, and its copper plate is kept at the Military Geographical Institute ("Istituto Geografico Militare" in Florence).

In the cartouche of the first table: Atlante marittimo / del Regno di Napoli / Disegnato per ordine del Re /Da Gio Antonio Rizzi Zannoni Geografo Regio / ... / e scandagliato da Salvatore Trama / Piloto di Vascello /"Maritime Atlas of the Kingdom of Naples / drawn by order of the King / by G. A. Rizzi Zannoni, Geographer to the King / ... / and surveeyed by Salvatore Trama / Vessel commander"),1785, 1:90.000.

The engraving of the plates was entrusted to Giuseppe Guerra and Aniello Cataneo, among the best artists of the time.

The book includes an index and 23 tables, excluding the title page, from the Gulf of Terracina to the lakes of Apulia.

It complements the geographical atlas of the Kingdom, i.e., the Atlante geografico del Regno di Napoli compito e rettificato sotto i felici auspici di Napoleone I Re di Napoli ... / Gio Antonio Rizzi Zannoni direttore del Gabinetto topografico della M. S. nel 1808. The Atlas, engraved by Giuseppe Guerra, scale about 1:114.000, was published in Naples at the Topographical Office in 1788-1812, in 31 sheets of 50x75 cm. The Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute owns several sheets.

Later on the Office published a chart of Sicily, i.e., Carta della Sicilia con l'antica e la moderna / divisione in Valli / rettificata nel 1818, about 1:380.000, based on the plates commissioned by Rizzi Zannoni for his chart of Italy in 15 sheets, printed in 1803. The Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy owns the sheet representing southern Sicily.

(A Contribution to the history of the Chart of Italy and Sicily ... was published by Vladimiro Valerio on L' Universo, 1 / 1983).

The Officio Topografico also attended to the survey of the Adriatic sea, in cooperation with the Military Geographical Institute of the Austrian General Staff and with W.H. Smyth of the British Navy. Their surveys led to the publication - by the Austrians - of the Carta di Cabbottaggio del Mare Adriatico [...] in 1822-24, while in 1834 the Officio Topografico of Naples published the Carta di Cabotaggio della costa del Regno delle Due Sicilie bagnata dall'Adriatico, dal fiume Tronto al capo S.ta Maria di Leuca, in 13 sheets 1:100,000 plus an index sheet 1:1400.000, while soundings are measured in French feet. Sheet nr 1 of the chart - representing the Adriatic coast from the river Tronto to Pescara - was partially engraved by Luigi Aloja, in charge of the orography and finishing of the plates.

Table 6 of the Carta di cabotaggio ... del Regno delle Due Sicilie ..., 1834. Detail representing the Province of Capitanata with the District of Foggia, Manfredonia harbor and lake Salpi.
( Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute)

After the Napoleonic wars the British hydrographer W.H. Smyth worked extensively in the Tyrrhenian Sea and especially in Sicily, and the Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy keeps many beautiful charts of his on a large scale, which roused the admiration of his contemporaries and of the British Admiralty.

Map of Sicily, about 1:65000, surveyed by WH Smyth and engraved by his usual collaborator J. Walker
( Italian Navy Hydrographic Institute)

In 1845 at the Topographic Office in Naples it was decided to carry out a general map of the Kingdom of Naples in four sheets, which was only published after the national unity. It was engraved by Pilippo Fergola and Nicola Pasini, the best artists of the Topographic Office, and was published in 1861 under the title Carta / delle provincie meridionali d'Italia / indicante / le tappe militari / ed i rilievi postali / costruita nel R.le Officio Topografico di Napoli / sui migliori elementi geodetici e topografici, 1:640.000.

The Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy owns the sheets of Puglia, with the cartouche, and of Sicily. (For additional maps of Sicily see Geraci and Viladestes)

The detailed history of the Topographical office of Naples may be found in the books by Vladimiro Valerio, and in particular:

- Società uomini e istituzioni cartografiche nel Mezzogiorno d'Italia, Florence, Istituto Geografico Militare, 1993;

- Ferdinando Visconti: Carteggio (1818-1847), Florence, Leo S. Olschki, 1995;

- Costruttori di immagini: Disegnatori, incisori e litografi nell'Officio Topografico di Napoli (1781-1879), Naples, Paparo Edizioni, 2002;

these works have allowed us - with the consent of the Author whom we gratefully thank - to include in this site the biography of GA Rizzi Zannoni, a biography and extracts from the correspondence of Ferdinando Visconti, and excerpts of biographies of artists, engravers and lithographers of the Topographical office in Naples.

The copper plates of the Maritime Atlas of the Kingdom of Naples were back in Naples, their hometown, on the occasion of an exhibition at the Royal Palace, in the "Doric Hall" - the old stables - from 13 December 2006 8 January 2007: The Regione Campania, the Municipality of Naples, the Italian Navy, the Italian Hydrographic Institute of the Navy, the Military Geographical Institute, the Italian Lega Navale, the National Library in Naples, the State Archive of Naples, the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, and the Soprintendenza ai Beni Architettonici brought back in what was once the seat of one of the most prestigious mapping agencies in Europe - the Topographical Office of the Kingdom of Naples - the copper plates of the Atlante Marittimo of 1785, together with the pertinent charts; numerous archival documents, including many personal letters concerning affairs and persons connected with the construction of the Atlas; and a vast collection of assorted tools for engraving the plates, from the Academy of Fine Arts.

The exhibition was complemented by a video produced by the Navy Hydrographic Institute, which illustrates the printing process by means of an old copperplate press kept at the Institute.

(By Paola Presciuttini, 2002. Updated 2007)