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Inside The Mapparium.


Field review by the editors.

Boston, Massachusetts

Before there was Augmented Reality, before there was the Metaverse, there was the Mapparium. Picture a giant, hollow ball made of stained glass, completely indoors, and skewered through its middle by a footbridge -- also made of glass. Stand on the inside of the ball and you're surrounded by an Earth turned inside-out. This is the Mapparium: a low-tech experiment in optical overload that no one would have the skill or money to build any more.

View of the Mapparium looking up at the North Pole.

The Mapparium is sheltered inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, next to the headquarters of the Christian Science Monitor. It was assembled by Old World craftsmen who had fled Nazi Germany. As such, the political boundaries of the Mapparium are frozen circa 1935, which can be a little disconcerting when you look for Israel or Vietnam.

The bronze framework of the mighty globe holds over 600 concave glass panels, which are illuminated by 300 lights placed outside. Electric clocks ring the equator, giving comparative times around the world. Visitors enter on the elevated bridge through the Indian Ocean and exit through the South Pacific. Acoustics are weird; people whispering privately near Australia can be heard distinctly in Greenland.

Why was this thing built? We were told that its purpose was noble: to allow people to see the planet from pole to pole with none of the distortion of area and distance on a flat map.

In 2002 the Mapparium added a computer-controlled light show and sophisticated sound system (the acoustic design was tricky due to the unique reflective qualities of the 608 curved glass panels). Visitors experience a ten-minute audiovisual presentation while they stand on the 30-foot-long bridge crossing the Mapparium's equator.

Boston architect Chester Lindsay Churchill wanted the Mapparium's stained glass panels to be updated as borders shifted, but the cost (and the extensive geopolitical changes that came only a few years after it was built), meant that it remained as it was. Purists are happy about that, and the Mapparium now not only serves as a distortion-free map, but as a record of the pre-1935 imperial colonies that once populated the globe, even one as pretty as this one.


Mary Baker Eddy Library

200 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA
Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. Near the intersection of Huntington and Massachusetts Aves, part of the Mary Baker Eddy Library. There are some parking meters. Garages are expensive.
Tu-Su 10-4. Tours every 20 minutes. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $6.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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