I'm interested in examining basic dimensions of city size, primarily area (though population would also be of interest) from the earliest possible records. It does not matter where the city is in the world - though ideally there would be several measures through time.

I realize that the much of this will not be digitized which is ok; I'm just looking for any sources.

  • Could you specify 'earliest possible records'. 1950, 1900, 1500, ...?
    – johanvdw
    Jan 10, 2011 at 10:22
  • I'm interested in the earliest recorded records of a city existing (e.g. 1500s onwards), to the present day.
    – djq
    Jan 10, 2011 at 12:53

4 Answers 4


Below you find some examples:

Service for historical Warsaw (it is available in Services tab).

Maps of Paris

Maps of London

Countries of the World by ONZ

The Federation of East European Family History Societies - MAP Library

A new one:

Archive of maps of military technical institute 1919-1939

If you are still interested the website of the Military Archives of the Institute of Geographical Maps was added 160-sheet Allied maps.

Among them are maps:

  • Anglo-American, 1:100 00, Series M651 / GSGS 4416, Central Europe: Germany, Poland, Middle Danube,

  • British aerial maps in scale 1:250 00 Series 4346 GSGS Central Europe,

  • U.S. maps 50s Twentieth century from the region of Kaliningrad 1:50 000,Series M752 East Prussia and the United States,

  • 62 sheets 1:50 000 maps from the years 1982-1984, mainly from Polish territory north-west.

New one again in the same service:

  • 650 sheets of maps of the Military Geographical Institute in scale 1:25 000

  • several hundred German Messtischblatt topographic maps, maps of Western Russia (Karte des westlichen Russlands - KdwR)


There should be plenty of information here. You didn't say if you wanted recent history or ancient history.

Census Historical Data Center

  • This data is useful, but there are not an areas associated with the counts (as far as I can see)
    – djq
    Jan 12, 2011 at 21:41
  • I will extract a sample and see if that is what you are looking for.
    – Brad Nesom
    Jan 13, 2011 at 0:03

After 1900 on there is a nice archive at: http://www.old-maps.co.uk/index.html

  • I'm not able to find the archive; there is a pay-site for old maps. Is there another part of the site?
    – djq
    Jan 12, 2011 at 21:39

The standard answer in the context of the United States is to take a look at some Sanborn maps. Charged with building cadastral maps for fire insurance, Sanborn surveyed out detailed building by building charts of most urban areas in the US from the 1860's to the 1960's.

WP leads with this:

Author Kim Keister describes the legacy of Sanborn maps: "Stated simply, the Sanborn maps survive as a guide to American urbanization that is unrivaled by other cartography and, for that matter, by few documentary resources of any kind." They are a highly useful resource for historical research, planning, preservation, genealogical research, sociological studies and research of urban geography.

Representative Sample

  • A dated comment, but just to point out that while Sanborn maps are certainly an incredible source of historic information, they may not be the best way to find the size of cities... the early editions were mostly focused on commercial areas, concentrated (white) residential areas, and industrial/institutional buildings. In other words, I would be a little suspect of city boundaries just drawn around the extent of the areas included in Sanborn maps.
    – mr.adam
    May 8, 2015 at 14:44

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