Why is north up? Modern cartography

On maps it is common to depict the North at the top of the map. It's all about research, writing and accepted standards. So why is north up? Modern cartography provides its answer.

It is a known fact that the astronomer Ptolemy set the standard (the convention that was accepted was not much disputed) for drawing maps with the North orientation at the top of the map. Why?

The North Star, which was located on the northern side of the Globe, became a fixed reference point. And since cartographers were guided by the North Star when drawing up maps, looking in front of them, they automatically started from the North (we write from top to bottom). It would seem that this is an iron standard. But in many countries maps are drawn any way you like. East to top, North to bottom, etc. Residents of the Southern Hemisphere, when drawing maps by analogy, depict the South on top.

If you are interested in delving into the world of cartography, we’ll talk about it below.

North From Above: A Journey into the World of Cartography and Orientation

When we look at a map, we are most often greeted by the image of the North located at the top of the sheet. This standard has long been ingrained in the world of cartography, but it turns out that this was not always the case. In this article we will take a fascinating journey into the past to unravel the secrets and history of the orientation of the cards.

Orientation History

Why is north up? Modern cartography

Maps, as a means of conveying information about the world, have existed for centuries. However, the way in which cartographers presented their material was not always so uniform. Initially, in different eras and in different parts of the world, the orientation of the map to the North was not a mandatory standard.

Ptolemy and His Trace

The history of changes to this standard begins with the ancient Greek astronomer and geographer Claudius Ptolemy, who lived in the 2nd century AD. His work “Geography” became a real breakthrough in the world of cartography. In it, he introduced a coordinate system and ways to represent the world on a map.

One of Ptolemy's key suggestions was to place the North at the top of the map, the east to the right, the west to the left, and the south at the bottom. This choice was justified by the presence of the North Star, which seemed to sparkle motionlessly in the skies above the northern side of the Globe. Looking at it, cartographers automatically began creating maps with the North at the top, and therefore from top to bottom.

North is at the top of most modern maps

Development and Diversity

Over time, this standard began to become mandatory, and North at the top of the map became something of a global canon. But the interesting fact is that despite its spread, not all countries and cultures adhered to this standard. In some parts of the world, you can still find maps today with the orientation of East at the top of the map or South at the top.

Southern Hemisphere and Other Orientation

An interesting exception is represented by the inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere, where, by analogy, the South is depicted from above. This world map, rotated 180 degrees from the standard orientation, allows southern countries to more clearly see their own territories in the spotlight.

Symbolic Closing Chord

Today, map orientation with North on top is practically an ironclad standard in world cartography. It represents stability and eternity, for the North Star continues to sparkle above the northern horizon, remaining unchanged, as a symbol of constancy in a changing world.

So, the next time you pick up a map, remember the rich history of this orientation. It's another reminder that the world of cartography is a world of exploration, creativity and constant change that always has something to say and show us, no matter which direction you choose to look at it.