It is not down in any map; true places never are

It is not down in any map; true places never are


The orientation of a map is the relationship between the directions on the map and the corresponding compass directions in reality. The word "orient" is derived from Latin oriens, meaning East. In the Middle Ages many maps, including the T and O maps, were drawn with East at the top (meaning that the direction "up" on the map corresponds to East on the compass). Today, the most common – but far from universal – cartographic convention is that North is at the top of a map.

  • Maps from non-Western traditions are oriented a variety of ways. Old maps of Edo show the Japanese imperial palace as the "top", but also at the centre, of the map. Labels on the map are oriented in such a way that you cannot read them properly unless you put the imperial palace above your head
  • Medieval European T and O maps such as the Hereford Mappa Mundi were centred on Jerusalem with East at the top. Indeed, prior to the reintroduction of Ptolemy's Geography to Europe around 1400, there was no single convention in the West. Portolan charts, for example, are oriented to the shores they describe.
  • Maps of cities bordering a sea are often conventionally oriented with the sea at the top.
  • Route and channel maps have traditionally been oriented to the road or waterway they describe.

On the western steppes, the Sarmatians, an Iranian people, are now rising in power. They are expanding westward, replacing the Scythians as the dominant people to the north of the Black Sea.

In central Asia, one group of nomads, the Yuehzi, have been driven from their homelands on the eastern steppes by the Huns, and have moved westward, establishing a new homeland east of the Caspian Sea. They will soon play a major role in Indian history.

The Hun confederacy has been defeated by the Han, and vast territories have come under Chinese rule. This has allowed the Silk Road - the historical highway between east and west - to emerge as a major trade route.

Earliest known maps

The earliest known maps are of the heavens, not the earth. Dots dating to 16,500 BC found on the walls of the Lascaux caves map out part of the night sky, including the three bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair (the Summer Triangle asterism), as well as the Pleiades star cluster. The Cuevas de El Castillo in Spain contain a dot map of the Corona Borealis constellation dating from 12,000 BC.

Cave painting and rock carvings used simple visual elements that may have aided in recognizing landscape features, such as hills or dwellings. A map-like representation of a mountain, river, valleys and routes around Pavlov in the Czech Republic has been dated to 25,000 BP, and a 14,000 BP polished chunk of sandstone from a cave in Spanish Navarre may represent similar features superimposed on animal etchings, although it may also represent a spiritual landscape, or simple incisings.

Another ancient picture that resembles a map was created in the late 7th millennium BC in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia, modern Turkey. This wall painting may represent a plan of this Neolithic village; however, recent scholarship has questioned the identification of this painting as a map.

Whoever visualized the Çatalhöyük "mental map" may have been encouraged by the fact that houses in Çatalhöyük were clustered together and were entered via flat roofs. Therefore, it was normal for the inhabitants to view their city from a bird's eye view. Later civilizations followed the same convention; today, almost all maps are drawn as if we are looking down from the sky instead of from a horizontal or oblique perspective. The logical advantage of such a perspective is that it provides a view of a greater area, conceptually. There are exceptions: one of the "quasi-maps" of the Minoan civilization on Crete, the “House of the Admiral” wall painting, dating from c. 1600 BC, shows a seaside community in an oblique perspective.

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