A World Map in Rainbow Colors

The rainbow world map I present in this blog post is a direct result of the World Cup in Qatar. A tournament that quickly degenerated into a statement contest. That was of course mainly the fault of Fifa, which banned “political” expressions such as the OneLove band under penalty of a yellow card. And of the organizing committee that banned every piece of textile with rainbow colors from the stadiums.

World map in rainbow colors based on the elevations on our planet
A world map in rainbow colors

Rainbow flags

It’s quite logical that rainbows have always appealed to people’s imagination. It is a beautiful yet harmless natural phenomenon that is also somewhat rare and fleeting. Over the centuries, rainbow flags have therefore been used by very diverse groups: Incas, Basques, Greenpeace, German farmers in the 16th century, the peace movement.

A rainbow behind Hallgrimskirkja, the iconic church in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland
A rainbow in Reykjavik


Interestingly, the rainbow was also used as a symbol by evangelical Christians for a while. A few decades ago there were a lot of car stickers with the colorful arc and the words “there is hope”. They’ve become a rarity these days.

The rainbow colors of the Pride flag, painted on the asphalt at Skólavörðustígur in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland
Another rainbow in Reykjavik


Since the late 1970s, the rainbow has mainly been associated with the struggle of gays, lesbians, transgenders and related groups for equality. The Pride flag was designed by the American artist Gilbert Baker; it originally had eight colors. For practical reasons, the six that are used today remained: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

Rainbow flags on the facade of Bijenkorf department store during Rotterdam pride
Rainbow flags during Rotterdam Pride


The OneLove band that fifa banned during the World Cup has another color combination: red, black, green, pink, yellow and blue. Not really rainbow colors, and certainly not in that order. But the idea is the same: the right of everyone to be themselves, regardless of skin color, descent, sexual preference or gender.

Artist impression of a gas giant exoplanet in the rainbow colors of the lgbt pride flag
An exoplanet in Pride colors


What’s wrong with that, one might think. Yet Qatar did not want rainbows or other expressions of diversity in the stadiums. But it would be silly to blame only the Qataris. In the rest of the world, too, many people still believe they have the right to determine how others organize their lives.

An elevation map of the earth in shades of grey transforms into a world map in rainbow colors
From shades of gray to rainbow colors

World map

Since I have some affinity with the b in lgbti, I felt the strong need to make a statement between matches. What do you do, in that case, as a cartographer? Make a world map, of course. In rainbow colours.

Work in progress of a world map in rainbow colors with various settings in the gradient editor window in Photoshop
Proportional and weighted distribution

Pride colors

I have “translated” the shades of gray on the elevation map of our planet into the six colors of the Pride flag. From purple for the lowlands, to red for the highest mountains. The distribution is not completely even. Really high eleveations are rare on our world. I have therefore moved several sliders a bit to the left to prevent the blue and purple from predominating.

Detail van een wereldkaart in regenboogkleuren met onder andere de Himalaya en wijde omgeving
The potholes of Asia


Apart from the idealistic aspects, I also think the colors are just beautiful to look at. In addition, the map contributes to our knowledge of the relief on our planet. In any case, it contributes to my knowledge. For example, I had never realized that a large part of southern Africa is quite high. And that the Sahara is not a boring plain but has some interesting mountain ranges. That the west side of the Arab Peninsula is much higher than the east side. That there are a few big potholes in Asia: areas that are much lower than all the land around it.

Framed print of a world map in the rainbow colors of the pride flag
Rainbow world map on the wall


Incidentally, the purple areas also more or less coincide with the land that will be flooded when all the polar ice caps melt. Including Qatar. And the Netherlands. But that’s another story.

Interior of a cyberpunk spaceship with on the wall a print of a planet in the colors of the lgbti pride flag and behind a large round window a glimpse of the same gas giant
Pride colors in a cyberpunk spaceship

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