France; French Cartographic glossary


Service Géologique de l’Armée: the military Mapping service equivalent to the General Staff Geological Service in the UK or the Istituto Geografica Militare in Italy. Called in this review “SGA”.

Characteristics of an SGA map of 1927- the example taken is Flle XXXVII Menton.

Size: 790mm (30 ¾ inches) x 660mm (22 inches)

Verso Plain

Paper: white, thinker than standard OS, not linen backed, wood pulp.

Folds 16

Covers: None.

Towns and villages: Red

Contours: Umber

Rivers: blue engraved lines, bunching to banks, to make the sides darker, becks are simple blue lines, dashed blue if it is a seasonal stream. Named in blue.

Canal: two parallel lines with dotting on outer edge- blue

Navigable river: two parallel blue lines.

Lock, Chevron in blue.

Bridges: Red: Stone; Blue: Iron; Black: Wood; Parallel lines converging in centre: Suspension bridge; Two lines with a X in black at centre: Mobile, swing or lifting bridge; Dotted line with small boat shape on it: ferry. Dotted black Lines “Plle”.?

Source of a stream: blue balloon shape, white within, from which a beck flows.

Spring: Blue circle white within

Well, Keld: Blue circular dote

Fixed Sea light: red sunburst circle with arrow, a number above and F.f. on the right.

Turning light: as above with F.o. On the right

Flashing light, as above but red circle has three lines leaving it- west, north east and south east and the letters F.e. After it.

Anchorage: depth number and blue anchor

Port light: solid red sun symbol- arrow to right, number above.

Light Ship, Blue ship shape, light symbol on mast at centre.

Semaphore: Blue square, mast and diagonal semaphore arms.

Channel marker for shipping: blue circle on stick with horizontal bar at base.

Buoy: blue half oval.

Light Buoy, as above with blue dot above

Anchorage Buoy :blue angled rhomboid shape, Dot in centre

Woodland: Green field of dots

Grazing: lighter green field of dots

Rough Pasture: white with grass clumps in green.

Orchards: Purple regularly spaced matrix

Gardens, green strips with green dots for plantation

Vineyards: Diagonal gridding, white lines on purple

Church: Red circle

Isolated Chapel- red cross on a horizontal bar

Cross: red cross

Town Hall: black edged rectangle, red within

Gendarmeries: Black edged circle, red triangle within

Hospital: Black edged square, red cross within

Fortified works: Green area with red matrix area within: old earthworks?

Also red line in pointing chevrons at either end.

Steam powered factory: Red block, vapour trail to left above.

Hydro power, water driven: Blue water wheel symbol

Electricity generation plant: Red block, zig-zag line above.

Lime kiln: Italic “f

Plaster Kiln, like a downward drooping fritillary flower

Mines and quarries: stone: Horseshoe shape with central dot, open upwards if quarry, open downwards if mine; Sand: as above bit composed of dotes, open upwards for a quarry and open downwards if a mine.

Post Office: black envelope symbol

PO with telegraph: as above with semaphore symbol above

Telegraph office: black semaphore.

Public Telegraph office: Capital black letter “T”

None public telegraphs: as above but red

State frontier: + +++++++ marked but legend suggests a red dot between each cross

Departmental borders:+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-(black)

Arrondissements borders: +..+..+..+..+..+.. (but in line, black)

Cantons: -.-.-.-.-.-.-..- (black and in line)

Commune borders: ………………………………… (black)

Prefecture: PF in a lozenge

Sous Prefecture: SP in a lozenge

Prefecture de Canton : CP in an oval (all these are black)

Spot heights: red triangle with dot in it or red circle with dot in it and a number in black (metres above sea level)

Good packhorse routes are long dashes in black

Bad packhorse routes are alternate short and long dashes

Railway with a thick black line has 4 tracks

Thinner black line is a railway with 2 tracks

Two parallel line lines with alternate white and black dashes within has one track.

Bared line: Tramway

Two parallel lines dotted within: Narrow gauge railway

Roads have various symbols for: Route Nationale; Departmental roads and roads of major communication

Road having at least 6 metres of width

Not regularly maintained road

Industrial or quarry road

Foot paths , two symbols

Mapping beyond the national frontier: This is interesting and generally does not occur in the UK. Rivers are marked as are contours for about 4 kilometres probably what can be visually seen, large roads, some important tracks, rivers and becks, some prominent hills are named: major towns and villages.

Submarine contours are marked 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50. metres presumably.

Meridian: This is given as the Pantheon in Paris, The term Ile de Fer is not given – this is the old meridian point through Paris. Le Pantheon is stated as being 0G.0106”,93. Its latitude is given as 54G.2736”,18.


Ab.r: ? a water feature marked – abonner? Water taken from this point?

Adresse: Address of the SGA between the wars was: 138 bis Rue de Grenelle, Paris VIIe.

Altitude au dessous de la mer: below sea level, marked often thus: -3. ; generally taken from Mean Low Water

Altitude au dessus de la mer: above sea level, marked often thus: .26 ; generally taken from Mean Low Water

A moteur hydaulique: water powered

Apres les travaux executés sur le terrain en—- : After survey work done on the ground in the year…..

Arrondissement: quarter, district of a town

Auberge: inn auberge: inn

Azimut: azimuth: defined as “l’angle que fait un plan vertical fixe avec un plan vertical passant par un corps celeste”: an angle which makes a vertical plane correspond with a vertical moving plane from a celestial object”. (Larousse)

Azimut de Rosny: (near Paris) that cited on SGA maps of the 1920s

Bac: ferry, usually a river ferry

Baie: bay (Modern French)

Balise: a marker on a channel for shipping

Barrage: dam

Basses qui assechent: banks which are dry at low water (period map)

Bateau feu: lightship

Baye: bay (Old French)

Bois: woodland

Bourdaloue: probably Bordelais in an old form : this is the point from which Low Water is taken as the base for French mapping (or was). It is the “nivellement Bourdaloue” , that is at Bordeaux, and is cited on SGA maps between the wars. In England Liverpool is usually cited. There is a terminal umlaut on this word

Buée: buoy

Buée d’amarrage: mooring buoy

Buée lumineuse: light buoy

Bureau de Poste: post office

Bureau de télégraphe: telegraph office

Bureau de téléphone: post office from where one could telephone

Bureau télégraphique, Bureau télépheniques: telegraph or telegram office

Canton: local rural district comprising several communes usually named after the largest town within it.

Cap: cape, promontory

Carrière: quarries usually but sometimes mines also as carrières souterraines

Carte,Carte Géographique: map

Carte marine: sea chart

Cat: Cataracte? Abrupt and high waterfall: “chute d’un fleuve ou d’une rivière qui se précipite d’une grande hauteur”

Cercle Polar Antarctique: 60 degrees south; the Antactic circle

Cercle Polar arctique: 60 degrees north; the Arctic circle

Chapelle isolée: isolated chapel, often a shrine for a local manifestation of the Virgin. In which case the most usual name would be “Notre Dame de ……..”

Chateau: anything from a large house, country house, country seat or castle, to a palace, also main building of a vineyard. chateau

Chaussée: in the name of a straight route this might suggest a Roman Way

Chemin de fer: Railway

Chemin de fer a 4, 2, 1 voies, voie : Railway with 4, 2, 1 tracks, track

Chemin d’exploitation: works road, mine road, quarry road, forest logging road.

Chemin muletier: pack horse trail, pack horse road, marked as “bon ou mauvais”

Chemins carrosables: drivable roads, tracks

Ch.lle: chapelle: chapel

Ch.lle runinée: ruined, derelict chapel

Chute, Chute d’eau: a force or waterfall

Cime: peak, a pointed top to a mountain after which the hill is generally named.

Cimetière militaire: military cemetery

Col: passage entre deux montaignes (Larousse): Pass between two mountains Colonne: in cartographic terms this is a stack like mountain- a column form of fell.

Colonnes: a column form of fell, hill, mountain

Commune: parish, after the Revolution, (Paroisse before): village political division. A commune is usually a village and outlying hamlets: les hameaux.

Corbes: contours

Crois: cross. Roadside crucifix.

Crx: crois: cross

Département: large local region, county. Nearly always named after a river or waterway, Post Revolution. Regions such as Artois, Flandres, tend to fall from favour Post Revolution.

Depuis …jusque au: from… to… (extent of the map)

Douane: customs post: not necessarily marked at the state frontier

Dressé: corrected, made correct (of a map)

Écluse: lock on a canal

Église: church

En bois: built of wood, timber; bridge or similar structure

En ce qui est connu: As much as it is known (written on old maps of Asia, Africa, America etc.)

En fer: built of iron; bridge or similar structure

En pierre: built of stone; a bridge or similar structure

Equidistance des courbes est de 10 metres: distance between contours is 10 metres

Éstree: a common name meaning where a Roman road crossed a river, cognate with Street

Établissement industriel: factory as named on a map

Feu a éclats: with flashes (of a sea light)

Feu a occulations: Sea light with a revolving light “disparition passagère”, revolving light.

Feu de port: harbour light

Feu fixé: constant light (of a sea light)

Fl.: fleuve: large river

Fme: ferme: Farm

Fontaine: spring

Forest: forest on period French maps, before the circumflex replaced the medial “s”.

Foret: forest often without the hunting connotation, circumflex on the “e”

Foret Domainiale: forest associated with a town, circumflex on the “e”

Fossé: ditch, often suggestive of a Roman road

Four a chaux: lime kiln ( for quick lime- chaux blance)

Four a platre: kiln for making plaster

Francois, Francoise: “French” on period French maps: Francais, Francaise

Friche: land left fallow- rather than rough pasture- though that could be implied

Gare: railway station- any in France, but “station” is used in Wallonia, with Gare reserved for a terminus

Gendarmerie: gendarme headquarters, a branch of the army acting as a rural police force

Grotte: cave or grotto

Halte: small station, often seen on Wallon maps

Héliograve: heliographed, photo gravure, an intaglio plate made using a photo transfer process

Hôpital: hospital

Ile: island

Jardins: gardens, probably suggesting potagers or allotment gardens

Lac: mere, lake

Latitude: the same

Latitude Septentrionale: 30 degrees north (or above)

Latitude Meridionale: 30 degrees south (or below)

Lieues Francoise de 3000 pas: French leagues of 3000 paces (old spelling); a measure of distance

Lieues marines de vingt au degré ou d’environ 2850 toise: maritime leagues 20 to the degree or about 2850 toise (see: toise)

Lieue terrestre: terrestrial league, an old measure

Limite d’Etat avec bornes frontières: limit of the state with the frontier line (land border)

Longitude: the same, “longitude” in French has a soft G. Longitude can be taken from L’ Ile de Fer, le Panthéon or Greenwich, depending of period and map type, each would be the “premier méridien” of their time.

Mairie: town hall

Marée Base: Low Water

Mas: farm in Provence

Mgne: montagne as a part of a proper noun, rare: example: Mgne de la Madone

Mille: a French mile, cited up to the 1930s. On a military chart, 2 cm = 1 km, and 3.7 cm = 1 mille, thus 1 mille is equivalent to 1.8 km or 1800 metres. 1 metre = 39.375 inches . Thus 1800 m x 39.375 (inches) divided by 12 , then 3, then 1760 gives a French Mille as being 1.1186 English Statue miles: which might be equivalent to a Nautical Mile or “mile at sea” in naval parlance. SGM Maps may therefore be citing km for the land and nautical miles for the hydrography. Italy used its own mile until after the war, which might also be that recorded on a SGA chart which includes the Italian border. An English mile is 1609 metres.

Mille marin: a nautical mile is defined as “soixantième partie du degré d’un grande cercle de la sphère terrestre, c’est a dire 1,852 metres.” moulin: mill

Mine: mine

Mont: generic name for a hill, small or large, a fell, mountain- but usually not usually the largest (except Mont Blanc)which are often Pics, Cimes, Colonnes etc.

Monument magalithic: ancient standing stones

Mouillage: anchorage, in open water

Moulin: mill

Mt: mount, often quite a modest fell or hill

Mu par la vapeaur: steam powered.

Musée: museum

Nivellement: level, usually

Non ouvert au public: not open to the public or not for public use.

Occidental, occidentale: western

Ouvrages de fortifications: generally: old forts , earthworks, old historic fortifications

P.: pas: pass (probably)

Parallele: line of latitude

Par Sr. de…: Par le Seigneur de….; By Lord…..(the cartographer or explorer), often seen on old maps

Pas: pass in hills, strait at sea: Pas de Calais

Pas géometrique: a short measure on old maps: a yard, but some paced measures were, anciently, double paces, thus a Roman mile was 1000 double paces- hence its name. There were 3000 “pas géometrique” to “une lieue terrestre” (a land league)

Passage: crossing point, for example of a road and a railway which is either:

Passage a niveau: crossing the railway at the same level, level crossing

Passage inferior: crossing the railway by underpass;

Passage superieur: crossing the railway by bridge;

Péage: toll

Phare: sea light generally, or a light house

Pic: peak or fell with a peaked top

Place, La: central square of a village or town

Plage: Beach

Pnte: Pointe: in one context a sharp topped fell: example: Pointe de l’Aigile

Point coté: A height mark by a road – an altitude mark which is not a spot height.

Pointe: promontory, or a form of fell or mountain.

Pointe de vue: viewpoint

Point du jour: common place name; the most easterly part of a place which gets the first sun of the day

Point géodesique: spot height

Pole Nord: North Pole, has a circumflex

Pole Sud: South Pole, has a circumflex

Pont: bridge

Pont mobile: movable bridge

Pont suspendu: suspension bridge

Potable: drinkable- Eau Potable: Drinking water

Préfecture: the Administrative office of a district or Canton

Prés: pasture

Producteur d’électricité: electricity generating station

Projetée: projected: la carte est projetée sur….. The map is projected on the (ellipsoid of Clark, or what ever projection might be employed)

Pte: Pointe: promontory, headland

Public, publique, publics, publiques: public, in a map context: for public use

Publié: published

Puits: well

Raffinerie: Refinery ruisseau: beck, brook,stream

Reproduction interdite: Reproduction not allowed

Réservoir: Reservoir, usually small, and rectangular- a constructed high land cistern system rather than an lake used to store water.

Rive: bank of a river; gauche ou droite depends on the point of view looking downstream

Rivière: river, also “une fleuve” or “Fl.”

Rme de, Rme du: Kingdom of, kingdom of the: particularly found on old maps of Africa.

Rochers: Rocks

Route Départmentale: regional road numbered D 274 etc. rough equivalence might be a B road in England

Route interdite: road forbidden- closed or passage not allowed

Route Nationale: principle Road, numbered N.6. Etc., equivalent to an English A Road.

Rte: Route, Rte Nat.le: Route national

Ruisseau: beck, gill, brook, bourne, stream

R’voir: Reservoir

Sable: sand, chart marking for floor of coastal waters

Sables et coquilles rompues: Sand and broken shell: marine observation of sea-bed

Salines: salt works, salt pans

Sce: Une Source, spring

Semaphore: Semaphore

Sentier de piétons: footpath, marked as broad and minor on SGA maps

Source: birth of a beck , river or stream

Sous Préfecture: Under prefecture- regional administrative office for permis, cartes d’identité permissions etc

St, Ste: Saint, Sainte

Station: railway station in Walloon French

Tete de: head of, as a proper name a top of a pass or a mountain name: example: Tete de Cuore (circumflex on first e)

Tirage: Pull (as a printing term), the date of printing, which may be the publication date also

Tnt: Torrent: Gill, fast flowing, quickly descending beck or river

Toise: an old short measure, cited sometimes; defined as “1 metre 949 mm”- approximating to a very tall man and used also by the military as a judgement of a man’s size and also an instrument to measure a man’s height by. There were 2850 “toises” to the “lieue maritime” ( nautical league.) A land league: Une lieue terrestre ( terrestrial league) was 2500 toises

Torrent: Gill, steeply declining fellside beck, or a hill country river- rather than a waterfall.

Tramway: Tramway

Tropique de Cancer: the same

Tropique de Capricorne: the same

Vallon: Small dale or valley

Vaze noire, vaze verte: black mud, green mud: old marine chart observations of the sea bed.

Vergers: orchards

Verdatre: greenish (qui tire sur le vert): sable fin verdatre: fine greenish sand. Coastal sea bed observation. (circumflex on the “a” of verdatre)

Vers: towards: on the edge of a map, the route continues towards (Vers Paris, Monte Carlo etc)

Vignes: Vineyards, vignobles.

V.on. Vallon: small dale

Zéro national du nivellement general en France: normal or general level zero (of altitude) in France. Which may also, as in UK, be taken from Low Water in a predetermined place- Bordeaux is