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Depiction of terrain

The unique and well-known three-dimensional effect of the Swiss national maps is above all based on the depiction of relief through shading, as well as of rock and boulder formations and, of course, glaciers. Here, the expertise of experienced cartographers is absolutely essential.

Extract of Matterhorn map depicting rock formations and terrain
Depiction of terrain – the hallmark of Switzerland’s national maps

The unique depiction of terrain is a distinguishing feature of the Swiss national maps and is one of the main reasons why they enjoy such a good reputation throughout the world. The vivid and clearly legible depiction of the country’s demanding topography still represents a considerable challenge today that to a large extent calls for the expertise of experienced cartographers.

Relief shading and rock depiction

For the best possible depiction of the shading, lighting from the northwest with a light incidence angle of 45° is required. The terrain is divided into light and dark sections. In the dark sections, the higher the altitude the darker the shading, while in the light sections the high ground is light and the foot of the mountains is slightly darker.

The depiction of rocks using horizontal and vertical shading supports the vivid three-dimensional effect.

Boulder formations

In the new national maps, screes, quarries, moraines, glacier forefields and boulder formations are automatically derived in their fall direction based on the contour lines.


Because glaciers are always on the move, maps are only able to present a “snapshot”. The glacial forms that are depicted include longitudinal, latitudinal, transverse and edge crevasses, as well as ice needles and glacial avalanches.

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
+41 58 469 01 11


Relevant authority


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern


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