Ponce de Leon gets most of the credit for discovering Florida but he actually had lots of company in the 16th century.
"Charting the Land of Flowers: 500 Years of Florida Maps," which opens Saturday at the Tampa Bay History Center, takes us back to that time when there was no certainty about this new world being explored but unquenchable curiosity about its possibilities.
The earliest maps (one is from 1493) are mostly macro representations and show a lot of creative license in defining the contours and topography of the area (mountains in Florida?). But after the mappers get those things right, the show offers more micro looks at the state and what we now call the Tampa Bay area. The 20th century brings maps for tourists from AAA and for land buyers from developers as Florida opens up to a bigger population. The 21st century is represented by NASA photography from space.
Most of the 150 maps are originals, not facsimiles, on loan from museums, libraries and private collectors here and in Europe. It's one of the largest and broadest groups of Florida maps ever assembled and it's beautiful. The rare antiquarian maps are hand-drawn in pen and ink or engravings that are usually hand colored and feature elaborate illustrations. A map from 1774, printed by Paul Revere, is the only known copy and has never been exhibited publicly. The show also has the first known maps of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Ybor City. And there is abundant wall text explaining the art and science of cartography.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.