Have you ever wondered why the North points north?

Although most of us do not understand the reference of a map without the north pointing “up”, it was not always like that. In fact, if we look at the opinion of the historian and cartography expert Jerry Brotton in the interview conducted by the BBC, “the north was rarely placed on the top, for the simple fact that that is where the darkness comes from.” Not in vain, the first compasses made in China around s. XI pointed south, where the Emperor looked, who lived in the North. There is no doubt that the cultural or religious weight in the elaboration of maps has been a constant that has been repeated throughout history. Suffice it to consider that the Egyptians established the top in the east (place from which the sun rose); Islamic culture in the south, since most communities lived north of Mecca; and Christians to the east, pointing to Jerusalem.

So, why has the North ended up pointing “up”?

Of all these maps was that of Claudius Ptolemy, important astronomer and geographer who established the north as we know it today, one of the most impact and influence in the evolution of cartography. In fact, it served as a reference for someone like Mercator himself or Waldseemuller, getting the cardinal points to prevail as we consider them today.


Stilichovivasindeo. 23/04/2013. Un Atlas antiguo en la Biblioteca del Museo de Valladolid: Claudio Ptolomeo Libri Octo. Diogenes´ Child. Recuperado en:

Vicente Castelló, J. Noviembre 2010. Inventos de la antigua China adelantados a su tiempo. Revista Instituto Confucio. Volumen III (3)

Alvy. 23/02/2014. Por qué el Norte apunta hacia arriba y no hacia abajo o algún otro lugar. Microsiervos. Recuperado en:

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