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The Nation’s Capital, Courtesy of Cold War Cartography

by Nena Perry-Brown

The Nation's Capital, Courtesy of Cold War Cartography: Figure 1
Click to enlarge.

During the Cold War, the USSR military mapped out much of the world in painstaking detail — including the Nation’s Capital.

The Architect of the Capitol recently published the DC map which, along with the general lay of the land, itemized several technical points — down to street widths, the precise location of infrastructural systems and industrial sites, and bridge’s load-bearing limits.

Interestingly, the map is more detailed than many maps commonly used today — often with features that have little tactical value — however it omits a range of locales and notes that are arguably of vital importance.

In this way, the map stands as a snapshot of the Soviet Union’s effort to crowdsource everything they knew of the District at the time. While it would be of little practical use in the GPS-era, the map was very ahead of its time when it was created in the 1970’s.

Various features of military sites on the map are exhaustively noted, down to the runways, paths and natural and man-made water features. All of the city’s reservoirs and pumping stations are recorded, as are street names throughout the city and close-in suburbs.

However, not everything is documented beyond reproach, as some building footprints, whether due to human error or distorted aerial imaging, are clearly approximations. There are also some street names, designations and labels that have been lost in translation.

John Davies first discovered the Soviet Cold War maps in Latvia in the early 2000s; others in the collection are available on his website.

See other articles related to: maps, infrastructure, dc

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_nations_capital_courtesy_of_cold_war_cartography/11584

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