Isituto Geografico Militare

The Istituto Geografico Militare, abbreviated to IGM, or The Military Geographic Institute is an Italian State organization, under the auspices of the Italian Army, General Staff. It is the national mapping agency for the Republic of Italy and was so for the former Kingdom of Italy.

Its headquarters are in the Via Cesare Battisti, Florence in Tuscany, and the Institute occupies the Santissima Annunziata Cloister in that town. It was established by King Victor Emanuel II (Vittorio Emanuele II) in 1861 and it is governed by national statute: No. 68l, February 2nd, 1960- which was passed, more or less on its centenary.

The Institute describes itself thus:

L’Istituto geografico militare ha il compito di fornire supporto geotopocartografico alle Unità e ai Comandi dell’Esercito italiano.
L’istituto svolge le funzioni di ente cartografico dello Stato ai sensi della Legge n. 68 in data 2 febbraio 1960. L’Istituto opera, quindi, per assicurare ai numerosi utenti, sia pubblici che privati, prodotti cartograficiche offrano la totale garanzia, in termini di contenuti e di ufficialità, per la descrizione del territorio.
Trae le sue origini dall’Ufficio Tecnico del Corpo di Stato maggiore del Regio Esercito che nel 1861 aveva riunito in sè le tradizioni e le esperienze dell’omologo Ufficio del Regno sardo, del Reale Officio topografico Napoletano e dell’Ufficio Topografico toscano. Trasferito da Torino a Firenze nel 1865, nella sede attualmente occupata, fu trasformato in Istituto topografico militare nel 1872 per assumere, 10 anni più tardi, l’attuale denominazione.

Le attività principali dell’Istituto sono: produzione, aggiornamento e cessione di cartografia a media e piccola scala; copertura aerofotogrammetrica del territorio nazionale; costituzione e gestione della banca dati geografica; manutenzione dei confini di stato; conservazione della cartografia storica nazionale. Il personale dell’Istituto è impegnato nelle operazioni a supporto della Pace.”


Which I loosely précis as:

The Institute Military Cartography, abbreviated to IGM, is responsible for providing support to land-cartographic units and operates under the auspices of the Italian Army.
The institute acts as the mapping agency of the Italian State according to Law Number 68 which came into force on the 2nd of February 1960. The Institute operates to ensure, on behalf of its many users: both public and private, the production of cartographic products that provide total reliability, in terms of content and detail, for the geological description of the territory of Italy.
The Institute traces its origins back to the Engineering Staff Corps of the Army in the year 1861, and that body took over and embraced the traditions of the former corresponding Geographic Office of the Kingdom of Sardinia, the “Real Officio Topographico Neapolitano” and Tuscan Topographical Bureau. The Institute was transferred from Turin to Florence in 1865, and was there located on the site that it currently occupies, which was transformed into Topographic Military Institute in 1872 . 10 years later its name was changed to the present one.

The main activities of the Institute are:

The production, updating and sale of cartography drawn to medium and small scales.

Aero-photographic Survey of the National Territory of Italy.

The establishment and management of a geographic archive for the country.

The maintenance of State Borders.

The Preservation of the National Archive of Historical Maps.

In their historical notes they note the following: (this is a very loose translation to put the text into readable English)

In the 19th century most European States, aware for the need for reliable and up to date cartography to serve their military and strategic needs, as well as the development of their respective countries, formed State bodies responsible for drawing up geometric surveys and systematic Cartographic surveys of their own and other territories.
Italy, because of the particular historical events, only put into place a unified mapping project after 1870.
The Government of the Kingdom of Italy, considering the work of the pre-unification period to be uneven and inaccurate So, in 1872, it commissioned the “Military Topographical Institute” (which then changed to its current name of Military Geographic Institute in 1882). The goal was for a general understanding and mapping of State territory. In due course, the new Topographic Map of Italy to the scale of 1: 100,000 was completed. The Institute was formed by the merger of the Technical Staff Corps of the former Kingdom of Sardinia with the Institutes and mapping bureaux of the previously existing states in the Peninsula. It inherited the scientific and cartographic culture of pre-unification times: a major component of which was as the depositary and inheritor of the School and Tradition of National Mapping.

The Institute Military Geographic (IGM).

Thus the IGM began its work in the service of Italy, in times of peace and war, promoting scientific and technological progress, using and teaching the discipline of cartography, while keeping up to date with developments and studying important physical aspects of the national territory; and always honouring their primary mission: the production of the topographical and geological works at the service of the State.

This was written originally as: “Nel XIX secolo la gran parte degli stati europei, consapevoli della necessità di disporre di cartografia affidabile e aggiornata per servire non solo le esigenze di carattere militare ma anche quelle di sviluppo tecnologico e sociale dei rispettivi paesi, si erano dotati di appositi organismi incaricati dell´esecuzione di lavori di inquadramento geometrico e di rilevamento cartografico sistematico e regolare dei territori di pertinenza.
L´Italia, a causa delle particolari vicende storiche, solo dopo il 1870 formulò un progetto cartografico unitario.
Il governo del Regno, considerando inadeguati i disomogenei lavori preunitari affidò nel 1872 all´Istituto Topografico Militare (il quale assunse l´attuale denominazione nel 1882) l´esecuzione del progetto di rilevamento generale del territorio dello Stato e della formazione della nuova Carta Topografica d´Italia alla scala 1:100000. L´Istituto, formatosi dalla fusione dell´Ufficio Tecnico del Corpo di Stato Maggiore  del Regno Sardo con gli Istituti e gli Uffici topografici e cartografici dei diversi stati esistenti nella penisola prima che si compisse la sua unità politica, ereditò il materiale scientifico e cartografico preunitario caratterizzandosi di fatto come il depositario e continuatore della scuola e della tradizione cartografica nazionale. L´I.G.M. iniziò così un lungo e proficuo viaggio al servizio dell´Italia, in pace e in guerra, promuovendo lo sviluppo della cultura scientifica e del progresso tecnologico, esercitando l´insegnamento delle discipline geotopocartografiche, assicurando costante concorso di pensiero e di azione per la risoluzione di importanti problemi attinenti, in genere, gli aspetti fisici del territorio nazionale, ma soprattutto onorando la missione primaria relativa all´esecuzione dei lavori geodetici e topocartografici volti al soddisfacimento dei bisogni di informazione geografica dello Stato”

The New Map of Italy 1: 100000

The surveying of the authoritative “Map of Italy” began in 1878: it was of sufficient importance to draw the attention of the experts and professional groups and also of the authorities of the Kingdom.

The preamble to the founding bill presented on the 3rd of February 1875 placed particular emphasis on the importance of having maps that “not only serve the purposes of the traveller and the curious, but also aid research in all branches of civilisation.”

This major project occupied the IGM for almost thirty years: measurements were carried out at a scale of 1: 50000 for about ¾ of the national territory and the scale of 1: 25000 for the most densely urbanised regions and those of the most militarily significance. The mixed method graph- numerically, with the use of a uniform base line led to the final definitive mapping of the territory of the unified state,as and was published as: “The Topographical Map of Italy.”

The original definitive map was followed by the publication of the entire work on 271 sheets at a scale of 1: 100,000.


Compared to the OS in England or German Maps, the IGM maps have a hand drawn quality- the wording is in an Italic pen like script and the founding date is important to the manner of production because, as is was roughly a century later than the Ordnance Survey of England, Copper Plate or Steel Place was not strictly necessary and the work may always have been lithographic. The virtue of the lithographic stone or zinc plate is that anything that can be hand drawn or written can be printed- and as this printing form can be offset- another barrier to naturalness is breached. However, the script used by the IGM can be difficult to interpret- but that is a matter of style only. Off-setting is the printing of a positive from a stone or plate by transferring the ink from plate to paper via a tracked rubber roller- thus the image is inverted twice and so prints positive. Lithography uses no engraving but a block which retains moisture. The principle is that a simple chemical processes creates a positive image which is a water-repelling or hydrophobic; where as the negative parts of the image are water-retaining or hydrophilic. So, when the plate is inked up with a compatible ink, the ink will adhere to the positive image and will be repelled from the negative image. Thus there is no barrier between the artist or draughtsman and his image- not necessity to transcribe it into cut or etched lines, and no necessity to draw or write in an inverted manner.

One superiority of IGM maps is their marking of vegetation- In a landscape relatively poor in tree cover- Italian IGM maps name many species and provide symbols for each: citrus, vine, willow, poplar, chestnut, oak and elm, beech, fir and larch, cedar, cypress. Note that oak and elm, and fir and larch, share symbols.

The other feature underlined by the 1920s and 30s maps is the advanced nature of the country’s infrastructure- with electric railways and autostrada at a time when such things were almost entirely absent from England and Wales. Another feature of the pre War IGM maps is the dating- Anno VII, Anno IV, and this seems to return to a base date of 1922 which is the year that the government of Mussolini took power. There is a hint of the same “resetting of history” that was attempted in the French Revolution.

It must be noted that the Kingdom of Italy survived throughout the Mussolini period and the modern republic was declared on June 2nd 1946. There had been a Republic of Italy from 1802-1805 under Napoleonic rule. This date setting cannot be from the accession of Victor Emanuel III- for he became King in 1900.

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