Historical Maps + GIS
By Andrea Ballard
My role entails using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to digitally represent the movements of our travelers through space and time. A central aspect of this portion of the project is determining how travelers moved along their routes, confined to historic road networks. The efforts of those who have already undertaken the task of digitizing road networks from 19th century maps depicting Spain and Portugal (1) have significantly helped me to infer which roads were taken. Even with this invaluable digital resource to build the routes from, I occasionally find unique situations in the travel itineraries that invite me to enhance the original road network data.
The two images below show the small town of Monistrol de Montserrat, nestled at the base of the Montserrat Mountain in the province of Barcelona. The first is a current map in ArcGIS Pro, the mapping software I am using, and the second a map from 1914.
Fig. 1: Monistrol de Montserrat and the Montserrat Mountain, ArcGIS basemap
Fig. 2: Georeferenced planimetric map of Monistrol de Montserrat, 1914.
The blue dots represent the locations we know our travelers to have visited. At one point they left the town, ascending the mountain to the Montserrat Monastery by way of diligence (a type of stagecoach) along a winding road. The historic roads network understandably does not include this small winding road, but after georeferencing the beautiful large-scale map (2) of the mountain and the town, I was able to trace the small road (outlined in red) and add it to the road network file.
Fig. 3: New road segments added to the dataset (in white)
Our travelers were on the Montserrat mountain in 1860, so how are we sure that the winding road depicted on the 1914 map was there? Below is a map of the mountain from 1858 (3) that I originally attempted to georeference, but the scale and orientation of the map are not accurate.
Fig. 4: Topographic map of Montserrat Mountain showing the roads, 1858.
However, the winding road is depicted. The writer of this particular travelogue, Sophia Dunbar, comments that the popularity of the monastery as a pilgrimage site and tourist attraction spurred the construction of a carriage road from the railway station of Monistrol to the monastery, a distance which covers “eight or ten miles” (4). Out of curiosity, I used the measurement tool in ArcGIS Pro to measure the distance along the winding road from the railway station, and it turned out to be approximately eight miles! Incidentally, this measurement also confirms the location of the railway station that our travelers were most likely to have arrived in, which lies approximately three miles outside the town and along the railway line from Barcelona to Manresa. Initially, we had attributed this station’s location to one inside the town. This did not match the author’s description of the distance or the existing railroad at the time.
Figs. 5 and 6: Screenshot of the measurement tool and results in ArcGIS Pro (above). The dotted line in the image below represents the distance traveled from the train station (top right corner) to the monastery (bottom center) along the winding carriage road.
Footnote 1: The 19th century roads shapefile was published by Paur de Soto, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. It is freely available for download at the following link:
Footnote 2: Mapa planimètric de Monistrol de Montserrat, 1914:
Footnote 3: Plano topográfico de la montaña de Montserrat con los caminos de las ermitas, carreteras y atajos, 1858:
Footnote 4 (text source): Sophia Dunbar. A Family Tour Round the Coasts of Spain and Portugal: During the Winter of 1860-1861. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1962