I have always been fascinated by maps. I recently found this original 1957 National Geographic map of Europe and cant help but keep looking at it. Drawn up deep in the middle of the Cold War and a divided Europe – the Communist East vs. “The Free West“, it says so much as a snapshot in time (the communist Warsaw Pact treaty was signed in 1955 and the NATO treaty was signed in 1949) .
This map would have been included for free in the June 1957 copy of the National Geographic Magazine. Back then to get another copy of the map from the National Geographic Society cost $0.75. Fast forward 59 years later and it cost me $7.50 in a curiosity shop!
This was part of a collection of maps found in a satchel folder. The previous owner evidently appreciated maps too.
Looking at the map more closely you see a great deal that has changed since 1957:
The biggest nation on that map at the time was ruled by the Soviet bear. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) was led by Nikita Khrushchev in 1957. Now a distant memory, the U.S.S.R. was split into many independent nations across that former vast land following the collapse of communism in 1991 (with Russia remaining the most powerful). Leningrad is on this map but today it is back to its pre-communist name of St. Petersburg, as it was in the time of the Tsar’s.
A little east of Moscow, the city Gorki (Gorky) as it was known from 1932 to 1990 (named by the Soviets after writer Maxim Gorky who was born there in 1868) returned to be Nizhny Novgorod; and just north of Moscow the city of Kalinin as it was known from 1931 to 1990 (named after Mikhail Kalinin who was Soviet Head of State from 1919 to 1946. He was born nearby) returned to its former name of Tver.
There were other former Soviet city name changes after the fall of communism but they were further east and off the map. Most famously Stalingrad (from 1925 to 1961) named after Stalin himself and engraved in history during the bloody Battle of Stalingrad (August 23rd, 1942 to February 2nd, 1943) became Volgograd (“Volga City” – following his death in 1953 Stalin had lost his shine under the leadership of Khrushchev who wanted to remove his “cult of personality” from Soviet life – the city was originally named Tsaritsyn from 1589 to 1925).
Sverdlovsk as it was known from 1924 to 1991 (named after communist party leader Yakov Sverdlov) returned to being Yekaterinburg (infamous for being the city where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were first exiled then executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918). Kuybyshev from 1935 to 1991 (named after Bolshevik revolutionary and Soviet politician Valerian Kuybyshev. Until 1943 the city was the alternate seat of government whilst Moscow was under German threat) is today known again as its former name of Samara. Outside of modern Russia the city of Frunze from 1926 to 1991, the capital of Kyrgyzstan was renamed Bishkek (Mikhail Frunze was a revolutionary associate of Lenin).
A divided Germany with the Federal Republic (West Germany) and the Democratic Republic (GDR/DDR – communist East Germany) sit firmly in the middle of the map. There was no Berlin Wall though until 1961. Following 45 years of division Germany finally reunified on October 3rd, 1990. The city known as Karl-Marx-Stadt from 1953 to 1990 (near Dresden on the map) then went back to its original name of Chemintz.
Communist Czechoslovakia is today split in two as the Czech Republic & Slovakia. The split took effect on January 1st, 1993 following the bloodless Velvet Revolution in 1989 that ended communist rule. Now in the Czech Republic, the city of Gottwaldov as it was named by the communists from 1949 to 1989 in honour of their first communist leader, Klement Gottwald returned to being called Zlin (this is the name in brackets on this map).
Yugoslavia was ruled as one nation under benevolent communist dictator Josip Broz Tito, yet following his death in 1980 and the bloody Yugoslav Wars of the 1990’s it is now divided into the separate independent nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia , Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia and Kosovo.
These Yugoslav states always existed but now they are their own countries. Apart from border changes and the demise of Yugoslavia, one major change on the map is the city of Titograd, once named after their former ruler. Today it is Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were all part of the U.S.S.R. in 1957 (a section of the map indicates that the United States did not recognize the 1940 incorporation of these states into the Soviet Union). Today they are all independent nations (Estonia 1991, Latvia 1991 and Lithuania 1990).
White Russia And The Ukraine
What is Belarus today is marked as White Russia S.S.R. on the map. It too was once part of the U.S.S.R. but became independent in 1991.
I kind of always pictured Ukraine being the land of the White Russian but it is marked as Ukrainian S.S.R. on the map. It too was naturally part of the U.S.S.R. back then until independence in 1991. Stalino is today Donetsk in the disputed region of Ukraine.
Europe 1957 – Quite a fascinating look back in time indeed. Thanks National Geographic!