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SURINAM – PARAMARIBO / AERIAL CARTOGRAPHY: Stadsplattegrond van Paramaribo, schaal 1:10.000 / Townmap of Paramaribo / Plan de ville de Paramaribo / Mapa da cidade Paramaribo / Mapa de la ciudad Paramaribo / Stadtplan Paramaribo.





An intriguing late colonial era map of Paramaribo, Surinam, in the form of an aerial photograph of the city tinted in green superimposed with information identifying all streets, 208 named key sites, neighborhoods, railways, and bus and ferry routes; created by the colony’s foremost geographer and geologist, Henk Dahlberg, working for the Surinam’s Central Bureau of Air Mapping and employing the advanced methods of ‘Controlled Mosaic’ aerial cartography, published in Paramaribo by the Topographische Dienst – surprisingly rare.


Bi-chrome photolithograph (black and green), with contemporary manuscript annotations in blue and orange pencil crayon (Good, some wear and toning along old folds, some toning and light staining to outer panels, a few closed marginal tears), 75 x 99 cm (29.5 x 39 inches).


1 in stock


This unusual and intriguing map of Paramaribo, the capital of Curinam, captures the city in the late 1950s, during the twilight years of the Dutch colonial era (Surinam would gain its independence in 1975).  The busting port, located along a sharp bend on the Surinam River, then had, as noted upon the map, a land area of 1868 hectares and a population of 108,416 (December 1958).  The area had been settled by Europeans since the first Dutch colonists arrived in 1613 and became the colonial capital in 1667 when Surinam officially became a Dutch colony.  Paramaribo became an affluent and culturally diverse mart of commerce, fueled by the ignoble slave-sugar economy.


Since the abolition of slavery, which occurred in a graduated fashion between 1863 and 1873, Paramaribo continued to thrive as the colony’s agrarian sector remained viable, in part due to the importation if labourers from Asia, while gold mining in the interior increasingly provided more revenue.  When the present map was made, Paramaribo was a small but vibrant city full of attractive wooden colonial buildings.  However, discontent lay just below the surface, as the Dutch regime became increasingly unpopular, leading to Surinam’s independence and the tumultuous years that followed.


Curiously, the map comes in the form of an aerial photograph, tinted in green, with a vast quantity of information overlaid in black text, including the labelling all streets, key sites, neighborhoods, and railways, and bus and ferry routes.  The map was made by Henk N. Dahlberg, Surinam’s leading geographer and geologist, who was then fulfilling a commission for the Centraal Bureau Luchtkaartering, Suriname [Central Bureau of Air Mapping, Surinam], an agency formed in the wake of World War II whose mandate was to map Surinam using advanced techniques of controlled mosaic aerial cartography.



To the right of the map is a street index, while the key, bottom centre, lists 208 named sites, as noted by number on the map, classified as crown ministries, public services, banks, cemeteries, libraries, cinemas, clubs and bars, consulates, hotels, factories, hospitals, churches and temples, airline offices, mining offices, museums, radio stations, shipping lines offices, schools, sporting venues, tourism offices and miscellaneous sites.


A notable site is no. 105, the Neveh Shalom Synagogue, home the one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Americas.  There had been a synagogue in Surinam since at least 1665, with this site in Paramaribo hosting a temple since shortly after 1716.  The present building dates from 1842.


Returning to the method used to create the present map, a controlled mosaic, it is the highest form of a mosaic aerial survey.


As described by Avery’s Forester’s Guide to Aerial Photo Interpretation:

“Mosaics are composite pictures assembled from as many individual, vertical photographs as may be required to cover a specified area; they are usually constructed to provide a pictorial representation and a planimetric approximation of a fairly extensive ground area (Avery, p. 1).

A pre-requisite for controlled mosaics, is a highly accurate topographical map of the area in question, from which precise geodetic basepoints are identified to properly anchor the photography.

As per Avery:


“A controlled mosaic is one that is directly tied to an extensive network of ground control points, and it is usually assembled from prints that are both rectified and ratioed. As a result, the mosaic will approximate planimetric map accuracy in regions of flat to gently rolling terrain (Avery, p. 1).


It was thus necessary for the photographs to be taken with great care from the airplane, flying at similar altitudes, in good weather to produce images to a uniform high quality.  The resulting images were then integrated as ‘mosaic’ to form the bigger picture, which would then be compared to the base map.  The images would yield additional details or improve the depiction of existing features on the base cartography, so resulting in a superior map.


The controlled mosaic technique, upon which the present map was created, represented the gold standard for cartography for some decades after World War II, until satellite mapping took over.


The controlled mosaic technique was developed in the 1930s, used primarily for the management of forestry, agriculture, waterways and urban planning.  It was perfected during World War II, separately by both the Allies (the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force and its private contractors) and the German Luftwaffe, producing military maps of peerless accuracy with latest details.  In the immediate postwar period, the improved methods of controlled mosaic mapping were applied to civilian cartography, as here.

The creator of the map, Henk N. Dahlberg (fl. 1954 -1975), was Surinam’s leading geologist and geographer during the last generation of Dutch colonial rule.  He played a major role in applying the latest techniques of aerial mapping in the colony, responsible for the ‘next generation’ in not only topographic cartography, but also geological and mining mapping and reconnaissance.  He was also credited for creating the modern education curriculum for geography for the primary and secondary school students in the colony.  When he made the present map, he was the colonial geography instructor as well as the technical lead at Surinam’s Centraal Bureau Luchtkaartering (Centraal Bureau of Air Mapping).  He was subsequently promoted to become the chief of the Surname’s Geological and Mining Service, during which time he revolutionized the colony’s gold industry, finding dozens of new mines.  Sadly, much of Dahlberg’s excellent work in the mining filed was undermined by the chaos of the Surinamese Civil War (1986-92); however, some of his findings were revived upon the restoration of the mining industry.


In addition to the present map, Dahlberg’s other key published works include a general map of the colony, Kaart van Suriname = Map of Surinam = Mapa del Surinam (Paramaribo, c. 1955); a general geography work, Suriname in de aardrijkskunde (Paramaribo, 1954); the definitive geography textbook for the colony’s students, Ons Suriname : aardrijkskundeboek voor de lagere scholen (1954); and an atlas of the Netherlands and her West Indian colonies, Atlas Rijksdelen, buurlanden en het Caribisch gebied (1970).


A Note On Rarity


The map seems to be surprisingly rare for an official work of its kind and era.  We can trace only 4 institutional examples, all in the Netherlands, held by the University of Amsterdam Library; Leiden University Library; Rijksmuseum Research Library and the Free University of Amsterdam Library.  Moreover, we are not aware of any other examples as having appeared on the market, at least in recent years.


References: Bibliotheek Universiteit van Amsterdam: IWO-depot UBM: W 72 987; Universiteitsbiblioteek Leiden: K 04475 Suriname; Rijksmuseum Research Library: 724 C 38; Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Library: LL.09251gk: 6711/los/1959; OCLC: 809791087, 66242382, 236366379; P. Wagenaar HUMMELINCK, Nieuwe West-Indische Gids / New West Indian Guide, vol. 40 (1960), p. 180.  Cf. [re: controlled mosaic aerial surveys:] Thomas Eugene AVERY, Forester’s Guide to Aerial Photo Interpretation, U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service, Agriculture Handbook 308 (November 1978).

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