An atlas is a collection of maps in a book. In such a book you will find maps of the earth, maps of the continents, of individual countries and other smaller parts of the earth. The plural of atlas is atlases.

The first atlas, which was also called an atlas, was made by Gerhard Mercator. This mapmaker died in Duisburg shortly before 1600. Why Mercator chose this name is not exactly known today. Some say he was thinking of a legendary King Atlas, who is said to have been well versed in the moon, planets and stars. Others think that the name comes from the ancient Greeks: They believed that the Titan Atlas carried the heavens on his shoulders. In Greek myths, a Titan is a giant that looks like a human being.

In an atlas there are sometimes several maps for the same area. They give different kinds of information about it. For example, there are maps that mainly describe the landscape and show where mountains and rivers are. Other maps divide the world into countries. Each country is then given a different colour. Other maps explain where you have which climate, how much rain falls in an area, where you grow what kind of crops or mine mineral resources.

At the end of an atlas there is a table of contents. There you find the countries, cities, mountains and so on in a long list, in the order of the alphabet. That way you can quickly get to the word in the list. Behind it is a page number so that you can easily find what you are looking for in the atlas.

The word atlas has other meanings. It is also the name of our first cervical vertebra. It is located near the skull and, like the Titan Atlas, carries a heavy load: the whole head. In addition, a mountain range in Africa is called Atlas. The Atlas has a length of about 2300 kilometres through the countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The highest peak is Toubkal in the south of Morocco at 4167 metres.

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