Cartographers have little room for creativity because maps are expected to be accurate representations of locations. However, mapmakers working for the Swiss Federal Office of Topography have subtly defied their role for several decades by secretly inserting hidden illustrations into official Swiss maps.
It’s hard to believe these drawings went unnoticed for so long, from a marmot hiding among the contour lines of the Swiss Alps to a fish blending into the grooves of a French nature preserve. In fact, a rendering of a naked woman was hidden for nearly 60 years in the northern Swiss municipality of Egg. Her curved, reclined form was created in 1958 by combining green marshland and blue river lines. The naked woman was discovered in 2012, and the marmot went unnoticed for five years. Short, parallel lines indicating mountain slopes doubled as the creature’s fur, and clever relief shading concealed its face, tail, and paws.
It’s unclear why the cartographers included these easter eggs. Perhaps the hidden doodles are a nod to the illustrated sea creatures and other mythical beasts of ancient maps, or perhaps the mapmakers were just having fun. To find one of these drawings, however, the cartographer must have eluded one of the world’s most prestigious map-making institutions—each Swisstopo map is subjected to a rigorous proofreading process.
When these illustrations are discovered, they are removed from the next edition of the maps and are no longer in circulation. “Creativity has no place on these maps,” a Swisstopo spokesperson told Eye on Design. Regardless, we believe these hidden illustrations should be celebrated as if they were the maps’ true hidden treasures.