An atlas is a collection of maps; it is typically a bundle of maps of Earth or of a region of Earth.
Atlases have traditionally been bound into book form, but today many atlases are in multimedia formats. In addition to presenting geographic features and political boundaries, many atlases often feature geopolitical, social, religious and economic statistics. They also have information about the map and places in it.
The concept of atlas in its modern sense and the genre of atlas in its own right were the brainchild and among the pioneering contributions of early modern Netherlandish cartographers, geographers and cosmographers; most notably the German-Flemish geographer Gerardus Mercator (who first used the term 'atlas' for a bound collection or book of maps) and Abraham Ortelius (who is often recognized as the creator of the first true atlas in the modern sense). The use of the word "atlas" in a geographical context dates from 1595, when Mercator published Atlas Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura (Atlas or cosmographical meditations upon the creation of the universe, and the universe as created). This title provides Mercator's definition of the word as a description of the creation and form of the whole universe, not simply as a collection of maps. The volume that was published posthumously one year after his death is a wide-ranging text but, as the editions evolved, it became simply a collection of maps and it is in that sense that the word was used from the middle of the 17th century. The neologism coined by Mercator was a mark of his respect for the Titan, Atlas, the "King of Mauretania", whom he considered to be the first great geographer.
The first work that contained systematically arranged maps of uniform size representing the first modern atlas was prepared by Italian cartographer Pietro Coppo in the early 16th century; however it was not published at that time, so it is conventionally not considered the first atlas. Rather, that title is awarded to the collection of maps Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by the Brabantian cartographer Abraham Ortelius printed in 1570.
However atlases published nowadays are quite different from those published in the 16th–19th centuries. Unlike today, most atlases were not bound and ready for the customer to buy, but their possible components were shelved separately. The client could select the contents to their liking, and have the maps coloured/gilded or not. The atlas was then bound. Thus early printed atlases with the same title page can be different in contents.
A travel atlas is made for easy use during travel, and often has spiral bindings so it may be folded flat (for example Geographers' A-Z Map Company famous A–Z atlases). It has maps at a large zoom so the maps can be reviewed easily.[clarification needed] A travel atlas may also be referred to as a road map.
A desk atlas is made similar to a reference book. It may be in hardback or paperback form.
There are atlases of the other planets (and their satellites) in the Solar System.
Atlases of anatomy exist, mapping out organs of the human body or other organisms.
Main article: List of atlases
Some cartographically or commercially important atlases are: