Page 9 - SMCK Magazine #4
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 By Vicky Gerontopoulou, Onassis Library Coordinator
Rigas Velestinlis (1757-1798) was a major figure of the Greek Enlightenment in the late-18th century. Influenced by the French Revolution (1789), Rigas played an important role as a political thinker and revolutionary activist in the Greek war for independence from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1800s.
His ideas were expressed through several poems and prose work, but his cartographic production is particularly significant. Rigas’s mas- terpiece, the Charta of Greece, consists of 12 sheets (each ~50x70 cm) which, if joined, form a large map with total dimensions of 2x2 m. Printed in Vienna in 1796-97, in 1,220 copies, this large map hel- ped spread the ideas and vision that inspired the Greek Revolution of 1821. It represents almost the whole of southeast Europe (the Bal- kan Peninsula) and is widely considered the most important example of Greek cartography in the pre-revolutionary period.
Rigas was not accused of starting a revolution through weapons, but through ideas.
Rigas intentionally incorporated many symbols in his map such as ancient scenes and coins, archeological monuments, mythical heroes, historical battles, and topographic drawings. All these iconographic elements reflect the ideas of freedom, justice, and equality, showing the historical continuity of Greek culture and civilization from anti- quity to the 18th century.
The Charta is the perfect example of how a map can promote radical ideas and transfer revolutionary messages through hidden symbols and riddles printed on it. Dubbed the ‘multimedia’ of 18th century, Rigas’s Charta operated as a communication tool, unifying the spirit of Greek people, reminding them their glorious past, and preparing them emotionally to regain the lost sublime of their nation.
While trying to transfer these maps from Vienna to Trieste, Rigas was betrayed and arrested by the Austrian police. He was accused of see- king to start a revolution inside the Ottoman Empire through the ra- dical ideas expressed in his maps, books, and poems. Consequently, he was handed over to the Ottomans, held in captivity, and martyred near Belgrade together with seven of his comrades.
Today, there are only 59 surviving copies of Rigas’s Charta. The Onas- sis Library acquired a copy of the complete 12-sheet map and fre- quently organizes educational programs highlighting this important historical document. |
Rigas’sChartaofGreece,2x2m,12map-sheets,RigasVelestinlis,Vienna,1796-7. TheimageisreproducedbykindpermissionoftheHellenicLibraryBookCollection©OnassisLibrary,OnassisFoundation

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