Blog:a-thon: Mapa en Relieve: Guatemala City

Elizabeth Wolzak, an Instructional Designer for National Geographic Education, shared this map with our staff in honor of Geography Awareness Week. Elizabeth, whose parents are Dutch and American, was born in Guatemala and lived there until she was 19.


Image courtesy Mapa En Relieve Guatemala.

(From Fodors). “If you want to get the lay of the land before you head out to the country, this unusual relief map depicts Guatemala’s precipitous topography. The layout is so immense–1,800 square meters, or 19,500 square feet–that your best view is from an observation tower. What makes it even more amazing is that it was completed in 1905, before satellite and aerial topography, and long before Google Earth. The flashy Spanish-language Web site focuses on the late-19th- and early-20th-century development and construction of the map, a labor of love of engineer (and amateur geographer) Francisco Vela (1859-1909). Altitudes are greatly exaggerated: horizontally, the map uses a 1:10,000 scale, but vertically, it’s 1:2,000. The map lies several blocks north of the Old City, not far from the Cervecería Centro Americana and its brewery tour.”

Elizabeth on her personal experiences with the Mapa en Relieve:

The Mapa en Relieve is one of the places my parents took all their foreign friends and family (mostly Dutch and American) that came to visit them. Writing about the Mapa en Relieve brings fond memories of the times that we climbed the tower to see the map. My father described the unique features of the Guatemalan territory. He used the map to explain the route we took every weekend on our way to the farm from Guatemala City to the Pacific coast, near Puerto de San José. I was amazed by the fact that there is a line of 29 volcanoes, one next to each other along the Pacific coast. One of the features that I liked the most was the Lake of Atitlán in the highlands of Guatemala. Three volcanoes surround the lake, it origin is volcanic and it doesn’t flow into the ocean.  

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