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What are the cardinal points?

We explain what the cardinal points are and what these four directions can be used for. In addition, its different meanings.

  1. What are the cardinal points?

The four senses or directions are called cardinal points that, in a Cartesian reference system, allow spatial orientation on a map or in any region of the earth’s surface.

The cardinal points  are East (E), West (O), North (N) and South (S) . This is understood as the approximate region of the planet through which the sun rises every day; by west the opposite point, where the sun goes down every day; by North the upper part of the axis of planet earth and by South the lower part of the same axis on which it rotates.

This results in two axes: East-West and North-South, among which are also intermediate points: Northwest (NO), Northeast (NE), Southwest (SO) and Southeast (SE), known as secondary cardinal points. The “Rose of the Winds” is derived from this geometric operation, used together with a compass for navigation since ancient times.

The names of the four points are of Germanic origin : Nordri (North), Sudri (South), Austri (East) and Vestri (West), from Germanic mythology. These terms were universalized and incorporated into other languages ​​in a relatively recent way, since they were previously called in Spanish: Septentrión or Boreal (North), Meridión or Austral (South), Oriente, Levante or Naciente (East) and Occidente or Poniente (West) .

For its part, the term cardinal points comes from the Latin term  cardus , which was the name given by the Romans to the orientation axes, generally North-South, with which they built their military camps and their cities . Hence the expression of being “cardinal” when it comes to something central or very important.

In the different Western traditions, the four cardinal points  were incorporated into certain imaginations and conceptions of nature , which associated them with the four elements (water, earth, fire and wind), the four seasons ( summer , spring , autumn, winter) , the four moods (blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm), etc.

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