Cartographic Heritage into the Digital

Content Analysis in Cartoheritage

5103.1 - Portraying the historical settlement development of Switzerland based on extracted vector data from old maps

Wednesday, July 5
8:30 AM - 8:50 AM
Location: Virginia A

Historical settlement development was always a topic of great interest for many researchers who analyze the spatial development of an area through time. The study of settlement development is based mainly on the analysis of historical documents, old maps, topographic diagrams or city plans from different time periods. Additionally, historical textual data stored in official registers such as the cadaster can provide also information concerning buildings or land lots (parcels).
For the depiction of settlement development on maps from the beginning of 19th century until today, the Atlas of Switzerland ( uses vector and textual data with information about the construction year of existing buildings and land lots from the Federal Office of Topography (swisstopo), the Swiss Cadaster and the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (GWR and GWS registers) (Chesnokova et al. 2014). The problem is that these datasets are not unified and compatible to each other: There are mistakes or missing information concerning the buildings and the information referring to the land lots is too generalized to correct these mistakes and fill in the gaps. As a result, the correct reconstruction of settlements in different time periods is not feasible. Furthermore, this data depicts the current situation of the area; it does not provide precise information concerning the reconstruction of buildings on same locations where other buildings existed in 19th century. This brings mistakes in visualizing the historical development of settlements.
Information concerning the first buildings constructed in an area can be extracted from historical maps. Since they depict the situation of the settlements in specific years, they provide a basis for correcting the data and improve the visualizations. In Switzerland, different series of maps and their periodical revisions are covering the country from mid-19th century until today [Siegfried Map 1:25000 and 1:50000 (1870-1926), Old National Maps 1:25000 (1952-1979) and 1:50000 (1938-1963)]. Comparing the buildings depicted on these historical maps with the visualization of current buildings, categorized based on their construction year coming from GWR and GWS registers, many differences were realized, attributed to different reasons (Tsorlini et al. 2016).
In this study, we focus mainly on historical maps of different time periods extracting the buildings from them, in order to portray the development of the settlements in an area, in time. The procedure we follow, is first to georeference the maps paying attention to possible local deformations of their content and then, to apply image processing techniques to each map to extract the depicted buildings (Iosifescu et al. 2016). Problems in this procedure appear mainly due to the labeling on these maps, which is in the same color as the buildings, making difficult the separation of the features. For this reason, it is necessary to apply pattern recognition techniques to detect and extract firstly the labels from the maps and then, the buildings. The next step is to correlate the extracted data and –through proper analysis and processing– to detect new buildings, buildings which shape has changed over time, or buildings which are missing from one map but appearing again on another map some years later.
Based on this method, more accurate and reliable visualizations can be derived for the historical development of settlements in Switzerland. Furthermore, the buildings analysis gives us the opportunity to gather information for their “history”, integrating it to the spatial data. This can be later combined with current vector data and textual information coming from the official registers, to correct mistakes and fill in the missing textual and spatial information. In future, this method can be adapted for landscape planning, considering not only buildings, but also other map elements (roads, vineyards, rivers etc.).

Angeliki Tsorlini

ETH Zurich, Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation

Angeliki Tsorlini is a postdoctoral researcher in Cartography at the Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, since 2012. She graduated in Rural and Surveying Engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH), Greece in 2004. In 2005, she received a M.Sc. degree in Cartographic Production and Geographic Analysis at the same University and in 2011, the Doctor of Engineering degree in Digital Cartography. She has worked on different projects and her research interest is focused mainly on the digital analysis of historical maps and the information which can be extracted from them.


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René Sieber

Project Manager
Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation, ETH Zurich

René Sieber, born 1958, has a diploma in geography from the University of Zurich. His Ph.D. thesis dealt with visual perception of 3D models. He is a staff member of the Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation ETH Zurich since 1991. He has been involved in the editorial work for the “Schweizer Weltatlas”, and for the interactive version of the “Atlas of Switzerland”. For more than twenty years he acts as deputy editor-in-chief and project manager of the “Atlas of Switzerland”. Since 2015, he is chair of the ICA Commission on Atlases.


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Lorenz Hurni

Prof. Dr.
ETH Zurich, Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation

Lorenz Hurni has been Associate Professor of Cartography and director of the Institute of Cartography at the ETH Zurich since November 1996 (Full Professor since October 2003). The emphasis of Hurni's research lies in cartographic data models and tools for the production of printed and multimedia maps. Another focus of research covers interactive, multidimensional multimedia map representations. Under his lead, the prizewinning multimedial "Atlas of Switzerland", commissioned by the Federal Council, as well as the "Swiss World Atlas", the official Swiss school atlas, commissioned by the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, are being developed.


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Jiri Cajthaml

associate professor
Department of Geomatics, Faculty of Civil Engineering, Czech Technical University in Prague

Jiri Cajthaml holds PhD in Geodesy and Cartography (2007) from Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU). Currently he works as a senior lecturer at the Department of Geomatics of CTU. He is a member of Board of Czech cartographic society and represents Czechia in ICC Commission on cartographic heritage into the digital.


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5103.1 - Portraying the historical settlement development of Switzerland based on extracted vector data from old maps

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