window spacer


Image of map compass

Click image to return to gallery

Fortunately for travelers, the earth behaves as if it were a gigantic magnet. From natural magnetic rock called "lodestone", early mariners made a compass that enabled them to find the direction of magnetic north. Still today compasses have a magnet. One end always turns towards magnetic north. So, wherever you are, you can use a compass tell the direction.

A compass on a map (also called a compass rose), like a real compass, shows the direction. Most arrows show north on the map but there are exceptions. By tradition maps are drawn so north is at the top of the page. Some cartographers in New Zealand and Australia dislike this arrangement as it shows these countries to be at "the bottom" of the world. They make their maps with south at the top of the map sheet. In olden times, the compass rose was an opportunity for the cartographer to show their artistic skill. Thus, on ancient maps, the compass rose is often quite decorative. It's also useful to fill the empty spaces on the map.

The one shown above is from a world map made in 1375 (the Galapagos Islands had not been discovered!). On modern maps the designs are less elaborate since the cartographer aims for clarity.

Top of page

Learn more about compass

"We the globe can compass soon,
      Swifter than the wand'ring moon"
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream ACT 4 SCENE 1, 1600

previous topic

information about map scale


next topic

information about map symbols

key (or legend)

Back to Galapagos maps

© Jungle Photos 2000-2014

window spacer