Historical Map: Gotthardbahn (Switzerland and Italy), 1898

Here’s a beautiful Art Nouveau railway poster promoting the Gotthardbahn that links northern Italy with Switzerland and points north through the famous Gotthard Tunnel. At the time of opening in 1882, the tunnel was the longest railway tunnel in the world at 15 kilometres (9.3 miles).

The map shows the then privately-operated Gotthardbahn and its branch routes in thick black lines (the Swiss Railways incorporated the line into its national network in 1907). The tunnel is indicated by a dashed section, while the railroad spirals that the trains needed to quickly gain or lose elevation when space was limited are also indicated, although certainly not to scale!

The importance of this route to opening up European trade and passenger travel cannot be underestimated, and is well represented by the beautiful allegorical woman, standing atop a winged wheel — a symbol often used by European railway companies of the time — seemingly welcoming travellers from Italy to Switzerland, Germany and France.

Our rating: I’m an absolute sucker for Art Nouveau posters, and one that adds a railway map to the mix is always a winner in my eyes! Four stars.

4 Stars!

(Source: Strange Maps website)

Official Map: Integrated Transit of Südtirol (Alto Adige), Italy

Sent my way by a reader known only as “mmmaps”, here’s a map of the transit system of the northern autonomous Italian province of Südtirol (South Tyrol in English, or Alto Adige in Italian). The system is mainly made up of buses (dark blue), but there’s also a backbone of rail services between the major cities (shown in light blue) and aerial cable-cars as well.

While the restrained colour palette (just blues and greys) looks quite nifty, the map’s usability is seriously hampered by this simplistic approach. Without coloured route lines, the map designers have had to denote separate routes by putting numbered boxes across each line to indicate where they go. And that makes actually using the map to work out how to get places a lot of really, really hard work.

For starters, the termini of routes aren’t indicated at all. A reader has to follow a desired route number along, checking at every bifurcation which way it goes (sometimes it goes more than one direction!). Eventually, there’s no more numbers to follow — so you have to assume that the service ended at the last town? Maybe. You have to work it out by yourself, hopefully with the aid of the individual route timetables and schedules that are available. However, this map gives a rotten overview of destinations, interchanges and routes for someone unfamiliar with the network. A user should always be able to trace any given route from one end to the other without having to make guesses!

If you think I’m being hard on the map, answer this simple question: which two cities does the 314 bus run between?

Our rating: Using a transit map really shouldn’t be this hard. One-and-a-half stars, and that’s because I like the Südtirol logo at the bottom left.

1.5 Stars

(Source: Official SII website)

Official Map: TILO Commuter Rail – Ticino, Switzerland and Lombardy, Italy

The emergence of a unified Europe has led to a gradual but noticeable blurring of borders between countries in Europe, which now seem to often exist only on maps. With free and easy travel between the European countries that are bound by the Schengen Agreement, it’s not impossible for people to live in one country and work in another, especially when they live close to a border.

This map shows transit services in such an area, the border between Italy and Switzerland north of Milan. Here, Italian Lombardy (shown with a grey background) borders the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino (white background). Transit between the two areas is becoming more intertwined and reliable, as this map illustrates. The services offered by the issuer of the map — TILO — are the two-digit “S-number” lines: S10, S20, S30 and the narrow-gauge S-60. However, the map also shows the lines of Milan’s own commuter rail network that interact with these services: the S4, S5, S9 and S11 routes, as well as indicating a (slower) regional service that runs between the two provinces. Even the extent of Milan’s Metro is indicated, as are its interchanges with these commuter rail services.

The map itself is quite handsomely produced, and has a distinctive look of its own. The typeface used – Syntax – has a friendly, slightly quirky look to it that helps lift the map up from that typically efficient but clinical Swiss design. The “subway map” stylings definitely help to convey a sense of modernity and speed, even though the main centres shown on the map would take quite a while to travel between (1.5 hours from Milan to Bellinzona; almost three hours from Milan to Airolo).

If there’s a weakness to the map, it’s probably the multitudes of blue bus routes shown on the Swiss side of the border: they clutter that part of the map with a lot of visual noise and probably don’t contain enough routing information to be that useful past an initial confirmation that a town is serviced by a bus route.

Our rating: An attractive and modern-looking map that combines information from different transit agencies to benefit its customers: always a good thing! Three-and-a-half stars!

3.5 Stars

(Source: Official TILO website)

Submission - Unofficial Map: Metro and Suburban Rail, Milan

Submitted by Dmitry Goloub, who says:

It all started when in Moscow was initiated a public tender for creation of a new, modern metro map. I was really excited and made an imaginary metro map for Florence (IRL there’s no metro).

But then I thought that I can do something really useful. A map for a real transport system that would be helpful, beautiful and clean.

I have completely redesigned the Milan Metro Map. I have added the latest updates with line M5, a grid with alphabetic list of stations, airports, I have created a new set of pictograms and packed them into a symbol font. I have created a completely new style that does not copy any other transport map in the world.

This map now has its own character, just like the city. The emphasis is put on the M lines however you can clearly understand how to use both M and S lines, how to get from point A to point B. The current official map just shows the S stations, it does not show to which line a station belongs.

I have excluded the regular railways (RFI) because they’re not a metropolitan transport.

Full project information and a PDF is here, free for download.


Transit Maps says:

Wow. This is absolutely beautiful work,and quite superior to the somewhat stuffy official map (March 2012, 3.5 stars).

Dimitry hits the nail on the head when he says this map now has a character that’s unique to the city, and its a look that feels appropriate for fashion-conscious, forward-looking Milan. Everything here is created especially for this map: the lovely custom icons, the square-yet-round station markers, and the stunning ribbon-like effect used for the suburban rail lines, which has a lovely rhythmical flow to it. Even the slight checkerboarding pattern used for the grid (alternating squares are tinted a little darker) — which could look clumsy if not handled well — is handled deftly and subtly.

Our rating: Hand-crafted excellence that suits its target city perfectly. 5 stars.

5 Stars!

P.S. Seriously, are Russians the best transit map designers at the moment or what? This beautiful piece, Michael Kvrivishvili’s contest-winning MBTA map and Lebedev Studio’s Moscow Metro redesign. All such beautiful work and something for other designers to aspire to.

  1. Camera: Canon EOS 1000D
  2. Aperture: f/7.1
  3. Exposure: 1/100th
  4. Focal Length: 37mm

Detail, Transit Map of Milan, Italy

A detail of a city-wide map showing the approximate limits of the historical centre of Milan. I’m guessing that this is located in or near the Duomo Metro station, based on the way that the map is worn away at that point — as I’ve mentioned before, many users will actually point to their starting location on a map as they trace their intended route.

Tge thick green/yellow/red lines are the Metro, blue lines are the tram and brown/maroon lines would be buses. Numbers in circles show route termini; numbers in squares allow you to follow a route from point to point.

The area shown here is actually easily walkable without the use of public transport, unless you’re in a hurry, I guess!

(Source: benbna/Flickr)

Historical Map: Integrated Transit Map of Milan, 1982

Submitted by Kyril Negoda at Mapping Twin Cities.


Milan boasts an comprehensive transportation system, consisting of a Metro, trams and buses. This map shows the ATM system in 1982, when the Metro was only 18 years old and consisted of just two lines. Not shown are the suburban rail services, which are operated by a separate company, although stations with transfers to it and mainline trains are indicated.

The first thing that really jumps out are the rings of tram and bus routes that go around the ancient core of the city, rather than through it — narrow, winding medieval streets preclude much transit from entering that part of the city. It certainly creates a strong visual look for the map, cleverly underpinned by also showing the main parks of the city, giving a strong sense of scale and geography to this otherwise very stylised map.

Have we been there? Yes, but I mainly walked the compact historical core without need for transportation.

What we like: Visually pleasing and oh-so-Italian in its design sensibilities. Takes a lot of information and displays it effectively and with some considerable style. 

What we don’t like: Differentiating stop/station ticks from the actual routes themselves can be tricky in some of the denser areas of the system. The black lines for intermodal stations can similarly be a little difficult to decipher, especially when they cross many route lines or are close together.

Our rating: A fine example of early 1980s transit map design. It still blows my mind that complex network maps like this were designed and executed without the aid of computers. Three-and-a-half stars.

3.5 Stars

(Source: Stagniweb - Italian Railways site — view map large here!)

See also: other Transit Maps posts about Milan.

Detail of a Province of Milan Transit Map, Italy

Looks like a visually interesting and abstract map, but I haven’t been able to track down a full version on the Internet. Looks like it might show bus service (green and thin black lines) and regional rail (thick grey line at the bottom of the picture). Does anyone know where I can find the whole map?

(Source: mikek/Flickr)

Historical Map: Alilaguna Gold Line, Venice, 2006

We’ve featured Venice’s public transportation ferry map previously (February 2012, 2.5 stars), but here’s an interesting photo of a map by Alilaguna, a privately-run ferry and water taxi service.

This map, dating back to 2006, shows only the Alilaguna Linea Oro (Gold Line), running from the airport to St. Mark’s Square. Interestingly, this express route no longer exists, leaving passengers to lake the slower, local Linea Blu to the heart of Venice instead.

The map has some interesting Vignelli-esque aesthetics, with the lagoon islands reduced to simplified, blocky shapes (as well as beige water!). The execution works well for Venice itself; less so towards the edges of the map. There’s too much fussy detail over on the left side of the map near Malcontenta, and the way the mainland is strangely truncated makes Mestre and the airport look like they’re also located on islands. Global warming, perhaps?

Production-wise, it’s obvious that this map has been created by simply deleting the other Alilaguna lines from a master map, which leads to the three “station” markers shown being extremely long for no apparent reason. The indeterminate angle the route line takes from the airport down towards Murano is also a little odd-looking, given the strong 45-degree design aesthetic of the map.

Our rating: Nice concept, huge potential to be visually striking — but a shame about the uneven execution. Two-and-a-half-stars.

2.5 Stars

(Source: dr_loplop/Flickr)

Using the Floor Map as a Guide

We’ve feautured a transit map on the ceiling of a train before, so why not one on the floor as well?

This map shows the suburban and regional train network surrounding Milan in Italy: Milan’s Metro system can be seen in between our two touristy friends. Reading the departures board in the background, I’d hazard a guess that this map is at the Garibaldi FS station. Awkward to use when the station is really busy, though…

(Source: hannahsmith66/Flickr)

Linea 1

Nice shot of an in-car strip map from Milan.

(Source: roboppy/Flickr)

  1. Camera: Canon EOS 20D
  2. Aperture: f/4.5
  3. Exposure: 1/30th
  4. Focal Length: 54mm