Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
A preceding model was created by exiled Polish troops to defend the Scottish coastline.
After falling in defeat to the Nazis in World War II, the Polish tank commander Stanislaw Maczek went into exile in Scotland, where he commanded a force of Polish refugees from Barony Castle, south of Edinburgh. Their task was to defend the fractal Scottish coastline, for which General Maczek ordered the construction of a giant outdoor map of 300 square meters, complete with roads, railways and brass miniatures.
Thirty years later, a Polish businessman named Jan Tomasik who had served under Maczek bought the castle and decided he wanted to recreate the map. He hired Kazimierz Trafas, a Polish student from Krakow who studied geography and planning, and together they reconstructed the United Kingdom's largest three-dimensional map. Getting the elevations correct proved a particular challenge, as any mistakes were poured in concrete and had to be erased with a jackhammer.
At the time, the map, made of concrete and plaster, sat in a moat, with the water filling in the inlets and coves of the coastline like the sea. Here is how Janusz Szewczuk described [PDF] the finished product, in 1976 (compare with the above photograph):
"...in the early spring the model was painted by contractors. The forests and urban areas were highlighted; water was pumped into the map, supplying the rivers and lakes. The pool wall was plastered; the last few remaining islands were modeled and the pool would be filled with dyed water so that the observer would focus on the map rather than on the bottom of the pool. It was planned to build a metal footbridge over the model to allow visitors a viewing platform without damaging the surface."
But soon afterwards Tomasik passed away, the castle changed hands, and the map was largely forgotten. Today it is cracked and overgrown. But soon it may be restored to its original glory.
After an intensive recent effort to raise awareness for its preservation, the map was granted "listed status" this week, placing it on Scotland's list of protected sites and structures. Locals hope that now the map will be restored to its original condition. For an aerial photo, see here.
Top image: Kim Traynor/Wikimedia Commons.