Facts About the Compass Rose

Man sitting and leaning near bookshelf while reading book.jpg

The compass rose is a navigation tool that has been used since the 14th century. There are various points on it that stand for different winds and directions. It is called a compass rose because all of the points look like rose petals. The design of the rose has evolved over time but standard colors and symbols still remain.

1 Compass Rose Points

There are 32 different points on the compass rose. The eight main points represent the main winds: north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west and northwest. There are three points in between each of these that represent the other wind directions. When apprentices began working on ships they first had to memorize all the 32 points. This was called boxing the compass.

2 Fleur-de-lis and Cross

The fleur-de-lis is a symbol that is commonly used to designate north on a compass. This is because the original symbol for north was T, which stood for the name given to the north wind tramontana. East is typically shown as a cross, mostly an iron cross. The is because the name for the eastern wind was levante and was written as L. This eventually developed into a cross.

3 North

There are two different norths on a compass. The standard compass rose, the symbol that marks north, is for the north pole. As mapping became advanced, the magnetic north pointer was added to the compass rose. This is a magnetic pointer that moves to point to the magnetic north, or nearest land mass.

4 Colors

The typical colors used on a compass rose are black, red, blue and green. The eight main points are typically black because they needed to stand out most and lantern light was used in ships during the early days of exploration. The half winds and quarter winds are blue, green and red. The red was the hardest to see and therefore was used for the quarter winds.

5 Considerations

This is the typical design for original compass roses, but some cultures developed other types as well. For example, the Chinese had a compass rose that used 12 main points instead of the typical eight. Each of these points represented different signs of the zodiac.

Natalie Saar began writing professionally at the age of 19. She majored in journalism and her writing has appeared in the magazine "Generation WHY" as well as "The Clause" newspaper. Saar graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor of Arts in media and cultural studies.