Guide me o thou north star…is my map pointing northwards?

Pierre Descelier's world map (1550)

Pierre Descelier’s world map (1550)

I just came across this page, showing queer examples of upside-down world maps (thanks to its author, btw!).

Just think about it: why is one expected to look at a map having the North direction pointing up? Isn’t it just a convention? Yes, it is: this convention raised after centuries of world explorations by European salesmen, which were using the compass. But it has not been like this since the birth of mankind – just to mention one, the ancient Romans’ maps (like the Tabula Peutingeriana) were meant to have East pointing upside (why? The Roman Empire kept on expanding towards East for decades): here is where the term “Oriens” (which in latin means: “East“) came into spoken language to identify the concept of…orientation! Simply put: one should bear the map at the direction he/she prefers, at convenience.

Mr. Pierre Descelier, a 16th-century French cartographer from Dieppe, Haute Normandie (one of the places I am going to visit in August – but unfortunately I will miss Dieppe by only 40 kms :-/ ), in 1550 hand-drew a map where South was the upper direction…in other words, it was upside-down with respect to canonical maps! I guess this was meant to simplify life to those who had to travel southwards…The map is part of the British Library collection (London).

Here you can find a lovely BBC website explaining the map.


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