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.

Ancient GIS

This is the Tabula Peutingeriana¬†(here is a high-resolution picture, about 7 MB heavy), one of the most ancient Geographic Information Systems in the world…people had no computer science, no GPS, no compasses… but maps like this just WORKED FINE!

Adriatic sea according to the Tabula Peutingeriana

Adriatic sea according to the Tabula Peutingeriana