Atlas Of Geographical Curiosities: Book Review

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A quick glance at a map of the world might suggest that it is neatly divided into countries, each separated by a clear and unambiguous border. But human society being what it is, the reality is sometimes a little less obvious. A new book, Atlas of Geographical Curiosities by Vitaly Vitaliev, is a fascinating exploration of the occasionally eccentric manifestations of political geography.

Little Known Geographical Anomalies

Book cover with green background and a globe, with text Atlas of geographical curiosities

This book observes that “the world is full of little-known geographical anomalies, sometimes the source of diplomatic friction but always of wonderment”. The Atlas of Geographical Curiosities is a collection of enclaves, exclaves and even counter-enclaves. It has disputed borders and unclaimed territories, and a few places that are just odd…

Anomalies may be created as a result of border disputes, wars, annexations, land swaps or international treaties. Occasionally they are quite deliberate, such as the suite in London’s Claridge’s Hotel that became Yugoslav territory for one day only, to allow a prince to be born in his own country.

Some of the book’s entries are not anomalous borders, but geographical oddities. Like the world’s longest street (1,896 km), or its shortest (2.06 m). The US city whose residents all live in the same building. And some idiosyncrasies of time-zone mapping in Australia…

Unexpected Consequences

Leaf through the pages of this book and you’ll find a country that doesn’t even exist, and an island that is French for half of the year, and Spanish for the other half. Some entries are downright bizarre, such as Baarle in the Netherlands, where 22 Belgian and 8 Dutch enclaves nestle inside one another.

Sometimes there are unexpected consequences to these anomalies. In Baarle the residents can – and do – indulge in endless border-hopping to find the best laws for their current activity. Then there is the Italian town that is not in the EU because it is located in Switzerland…

Metal gate and traffic barrier leading to a row of London townhouses
Ely Place – is it in London or in Cambridgeshire?

I was pleased to find a few places whose quirks I had already discovered for myself. Like Sark in the Channel Islands (“the world’s last feudal state”), or San Marino – the world’s oldest republic – which is located entirely within the borders of Italy. And I was inspired to go and have a look at Ely Place, the London street that is actually in Cambridgeshire…

Reading The Atlas Of Geographical Curiosities

The Atlas of Geographical Curiosities has 59 entries, covering all corners of the world. Each item has a description and lots of little known history. You’ll hear about mapping, diplomatic spats, and the problems of present-day citizens who have to cross borders just to get their groceries. The book is fully illustrated with maps and colour photographs.

Road sign with red triangle and an image of a polar bear
Svalbard – the Norwegian archipelago whose resources are freely available to any country in the world (photo copyright Jonglez Publishing)

There are enough nuggets of information here to satisfy the most curious reader. The Atlas is perfect for the long winter evenings, immersing yourself in a discovery of some of the weird and wonderful ways humans have mapped their world. It is perhaps more a book for armchair reading than to inspire wanderlust, although I have to confess that I have added one or two places to my bucket list as a result of reading it!

Atlas of Geographical Curiosities by Vitaly Vitaliev. Jonglez Publishing, 2022, 9782361955304

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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