Collector explores the curiosities of ancient maps
By Li Anlan
Maps, according to antique collector Ricardo Blazquez, were often more instruments of power than tools of geography.
For example, if a ruler didn’t want people to go into a rich part of the realm, he would simply order his mapmakers to show the place as barren.
A native of Spain, Blazquez has been collecting antique maps for many years. He became interested in Asian maps after moving to Taipei three decades ago. He now lives in Shanghai’s Gubei area in Changning District.
“I have tried to focus my collection on maps of Asia, particularly to show how Westerners like me saw Asia three or four hundred years ago,” he says.
Last month, Blazquez and fellow Spaniard Guillermo Diaz hosted the first exhibition of their antique map collection at the Gubei Civic Center. It included both originals and copies of historic maps.
One map of Taiwan, created by Jacques Nicolas Bellin in the 18th century, was based on Jesuit texts in French and Dutch.
Blazquez moved to Taiwan in 1983 and then to Shanghai in 1996. He is now chief representative for the Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness, an economic development arm of the Valencian regional government. His job is to help Spanish companies do business in China. help
“Shanghai has been very good to me,” he says. “I want to give back to Shanghai, and one way is to participate in the Gubei Civic Center.”
Blazquez says he fell in love with maps because he loves traveling.
“When I started to travel more than 50 years ago, there was no Google Earth or Baidu Map,” he says. “So if you wanted to go somewhere, you needed a map to show you distances between cities and locations of train stations.”
When he visited the British Library 30 years ago, he saw an exhibition of antique maps that shocked him. “The old maps were so different from those I had studied at school,” he says.
His curiosity led him to read books about maps and start his own collection. When visiting a country, he seeks out places that sell maps, including antique bookshops. For him, antique maps are a source of enjoyment rather than an obsessive pursuit.
“Hundreds of people saw a map before you did, and hundreds of people enjoyed it,” he says.
Unlike maps used for navigation, antique maps are often more artistic, especially those commissioned by kings and emperors. Looking at the details on these beautifully drawn maps is like unfolding a history book; it offers a window into unknown worlds.
Blazquez says his walls at home and at work are all covered with maps.
“When I am under a lot of pressure, I take a magnifying glass and just explore my maps,” he says.
Perhaps because he is a map collector, Blazquez eschews using a GPS and prefers to chart his course the old-fashioned way. That risks getting lost now and again, but it is part of the adventure of travel, he says.
Blazquez says he is making plans for an epic road trip when he retires in a few years. He wants to drive with his wife from Shanghai to Madrid, then return via a different route.
“We are collecting the maps,” he says. “The challenge of this trip is to do it without GPS.”
He has started reading books and collecting information for the trip across two continents.
“My trip from Shanghai to Spain began from the day I decided to go,” Blazquez says. “Maps are for dreams.”