The first volume of the Civitates Orbis Terrarum was published in Cologne in 1572.
The sixth and the final volume appeared in 1617.
This great city atlas, edited by Georg Braun and largely engraved by Franz Hogenberg, eventually contained 546 prospects, bird-eye views and map views of cities from all over the world. Braun (1541-1622), a cleric of Cologne, was the principal editor of the work, and was greatly assisted in his project by the close, and continued interest of Abraham Ortelius, whose Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of 1570 was, as a systematic and comprehensive collection of maps of uniform style, the first true atlas.
The Civitates, indeed, was intended as a companion for the Theatrum, as indicated by the similarity in the titles and by contemporary references regarding the complementary nature of two works. Nevertheless, the Civitates was designs to be more popular in approach, no doubt because the novelty of a collection of city plans and views represented a more hazardous commercial undertaking than a world atlas, for which there had been a number of successful precedents.
Franz Hogenberg (1535-1590) was the son of a Munich engraves who settled in Malines. He engraved most of the plates for Ortelius's Theatrum and the majority of those in the Civitates, and may have been responsible for originating the project.
Over a hundred of different artists and cartographers, the most significant of whom was Antwerp artist Georg (Joris) Hoefnagel (1542-1600), engraved the cooper-plates of the Civitates from drawings. He not only contributed most of the original material for the Spanish and Italian towns but also reworked and modified those of other contributors. After Hoefnagel's death his son Jakob continued the
work for the Civitates. A large number of Jacob van Deventer (1505-1575), also known as Jacob Roelofszof, unpublished works, plans of towns of the Netherlands were copied, as were Stumpf's woodcuts from the Schweizer Chronik of 1548, and Munster's German views from the 1550 and 1572 editions of his Cosmographia. Another important source for maps was the Danish cartographer Heinrich van Rantzau (1526-1599), beter known under his Latin name Rantzovius, who provided maps of Northern Europe, specially of Danish cities. The Civitates provided a uniquely comprehensive view of urban life at the turn of the sixteenth century.
Other sources were the
maps of Sebastian Munster from around 1550 and , and of.
Braun added to the maps figures in local dress. This feature was anticipated in Hans Lautensack's etched view of Nuremberg, 1552, those groups of citizens in the rural foreground add further authenticity to the highly accurate topographical details of what was effectively Germany's cultural capital at that time. Braun's motives for adding figures to the views, however, went further: as stated in his introduction to book 1, he believed, perhaps optimistically, that his plans would not in consequence be scrutinized for military secrets by the Turks, as their religion forbade them from looking on representations of the human form.
The plans, each accompanies by Braun's printed account of the town's history, situation and commerce, form an armchair traveler's compendium, which the scholar Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy of 1621 asserted would not only provide instructions but would uplift the spirit as well.