At the heart of symbolism

The wind rose directions


The wind rose

The cardinal directions

The wind rose origins

Initially, the wind rose diagram was indicating the direction of the prevailing winds in a specific area; it was addressing meteorological needs and also used for orientation purposes while travelling at sea or on land. This diagram could count 4, 8, 12, 16, 24 and up to 32, more or less equidistant, directions. Let us note that the direction number is always even.

If the Phoenicians probably had recourse to the wind rose for navigation, all the credit goes to the Greeks for its double use regarding:

  • Meteorology based on four main winds: Boreas, Notos, Eurus and Zephyrus.
  • Orientation taking the four cardinal directions into consideration: Arctos, Anatole, Mesembria and Dusis.

4-wind roseGreek four winds rose

4-point roseGreek four points rose

Taking supplementary winds and cardinal subdivisions into account led to representations getting closer and closer to each other, enabling them to be combined. That is probably why the Greeks produced an 8 and 12-wind rose. The Romans replaced the Greek names by their Latin equivalents. The names of the winds were used to denote geographical areas.

The wind rose in the Middle Ages and today

According to the Carolingian chronicler Einhard (775-840), Charlemagne himself,m would have renamed the twelve winds of the rose. These denominations would have been at the origin of the modern compass point names in most western European languages.

Wind names in Greek, Roman and Carolingian worlds

Wind Greek Roman Carolingian
N Aparctias Septentrio Nordroni
NNE Meses
or Boreas
Aquilo Nordostroni
NE Caicias Caecias Ostnordroni
E Apeliotes Subsolanus Ostroni
SE Eurus Vulturnus Ostsundroni
SSE Euronotus Euronotus Sundostroni
S Notos Auster Sundroni
SSW Libonotos Libonotus
or Austroafricus
SW Lips Africus Vuestsundroni
W Zephyrus Favonius Vuestroni
NW Argestes Corus Vuestnordroni
NNW Thrascias Thrascias
or Circius

The 12-wind rose was still in use in the Middle Ages 1. However, sailors of the Mediterranean Sea resorted to their own 8-wind rose. They used names deriving from a patois mainly composed of Ligurian mixed with Venetian, Sicilian, Proven├žal, Catalan, Greek and Arabic words from around the Mediterranean basin.

The wind rose of the Middle Age sailors

Today, the wind rose is mostly visible on navigators' compasses to stay on course, as well as on the standard magnetic compass 2, nautical charts, maps etc.

Logo from an Armenian travel agencySome companies, such as the Armenian travel agency WindRose Travel, manage to give a wider meaning to the wind rose through their logo. This simple and elegant drawing gives the impression of a wind rose rotating around its centre. Its four branches are thus sweeping all directions. Moreover, each branch is composed of a curved line coming from the centre and a straight line returning to it. The wind rose evokes here the movements of the Armenian Diaspora. Being forced to have to leave the country without always knowing where to go, it was always eager to go straight home.

This simple insight lets us feel that the wind rose is not only indicating directions to follow, but also symbols to meditate

1 back It was particularly in use as the rose-window in the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals.

2 back Let us recall by passing, that the navigator and standard compasses are pointing out towards the magnetic and not geographic north.

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