Maps and Plans

The collection

The Royal Library’s collection of maps and plans consists of:

  • more than 100,000 maps and plans on loose leaves, usually on large paper formats
  • approx. 600 atlases
  • around thirty globes
  • a substantial collection of books and journals on cartography

Many of the hand-drawn, engraved and printed maps dating from before 1800 belong to the collection of valuable objects.

The cartographical documents held by the Maps and Plans Department date from the sixteenth century to the present day, representing Belgium and the whole world. They include:

  • atlases
  • maps of the world
  • celestial maps
  • nautical charts and portulan maps
  • maps of continents, national, regional and local maps
  • street plans of towns
  • cadastral maps
  • military maps, maps of battlefields, topographic maps
  • aerial photographs
  • thematic maps

Pieces from the collection can be consulted on request in the Department’s Reading Room. The collection is regularly expanded by means of donations, purchases and acquisitions through the Legal Deposit.


Cartesius, the online portal

Many of the maps and plans from the collection became available online in August 2015, following the launch of The Royal Library of Belgium, the State Archives of Belgium, the Royal Museum for Central Africa and the National Geographical Institute have made their historical geographical data available to a wide public by means of the Cartesius Project. The online portal contains maps, plans and aerial photographs of Belgium and Central Africa.


The online collection is increasing gradually, so it’s well worth checking the Cartesius website regularly.


The history of the Maps and Plans Department

When the Royal Library of Belgium was founded, the maps and plans were part of the collections of the Printed Works Department. In 1853, when the Prints Department was set up, the maps and plans were transferred to the collections of the Prints Department. In fact, it was only in the early years of the twentieth century that a specific geographical classification system was created for these documents and they could finally be catalogued. After the Second World War, people realised the richness and special qualities of the cartographical collections and a separate Maps and Plans Department was founded, where the collections were re-arranged, stored in suitable cabinets and made available to the public.



Contact the department using the contact form