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Ola Campus Pune for Ola Campus Pune

Posted on • Originally published at Medium

Why Maps Point North?

Did you know that once upon a time, maps used to point in different directions? The world’s top has long been the ultimate axis point for all geographical aspects, but why is that exactly?

As it turns out, the north at the top of the world map is a practice that is hundreds of years old, and not a default option of mapping experts of old.

In ancient times, the map would point to the east, where the sun appeared. The word Dakshina, which translates to right and south, would suggest that the top of the chart was east.

There are numerous occurrences of the east on top phenomena in the bible. In the book of Genesis, Abraham and his followers catch up with his son’s captors and free him in a location which lies to the β€œleft of Damascus”. In reality, that city (Chovah) lies north of Damascus.

In European culture, Jerusalem was always at the top as the holy land, which made east the top.

In Egyptian maps, the south was at the top, probably due to the river Nile flow. Since rivers flow downwards, it was believed that the south was, therefore, the top.

The Chinese maps also pointed south, mainly due to the auspicious and sacred direction in their culture. The same thought process applied to the Arab plans, since most Islamic habitations were north of Mecca, making south a divine direction.

Sometime in the 16th century, when European dominance thrived, mapmakers began to make Europe the centre of the world. Thus began the age of maps with north at the top.

From a more scientific perspective, in 1569, Mercator’s map was the revolutionary real estate in the field of modern maps as it took into consideration the earth’s shape. Although many believe that the main reason he placed the north at the top was once again, in honour of European imperialism.

Years ago, a 12 year old Australian, Stuart McArthur, created the Universal Corrective Map of the World. The map laid all the continents upside down, making south the top once again.
The interesting thing about switching the southern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere is that it reveals a few interesting facts.

South America is not south of North America. Africa and the Middle East look much larger than they are depicted in the northern map.

Most importantly, South America, Africa and Australia, which is way down under aren’t that far south. They all lie within the tropics with the majority of Africa residing in the northern hemisphere.

Could we be reading maps all wrong? We will be happy to know your opinion!

Top comments (2)

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aarone4 profile image
Aaron Reese

Interesting article, and speaks to my inner geek, but not sure DEV is the correct platform for trivia.

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olapune profile image
Ola Campus Pune

Thanks Aaron! We'll keep this in mind!

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