This review summarizes present knowledge on the embryonic development of the avian visual projections, based on the domestic chick as a model system. The reductionist goal to understand formation and function of complex neuroanatomical systems on a causal level requires a synthesis of classic developmental biology with recent advances on the molecular mechanisms of cell differentiation and histogenesis. It is the purpose of this article. We are discussing the processes underlying patterning of the anterior neural tube, when the retina and optic tectum are specified and their axial polarity is determined. Then the development of these structures is described from the molecular to the anatomical level. Following sections deal with the establishment of secondary visual connections, and the developmental interactions between compartments of the retinotectal system. Using this latter pathway, from the retina to the optic tectum, many investigations aimed at mechanisms of axonal pathfinding and connectivity have accumulated a vast body of research, which will be covered by a following review.