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The Renaissance was a time of discovery, invention and innovation. This was true in the area of transportation as well. We saw great deal of technology evolve during the Renaissance. Let’s see what changed.

The world is round and not flat.

Before the Renaissance, people generally believed that the world was flat. Most people never left their village or town that they lived in because traveling great distances took a lot of time. Even horses could only travel relatively short distances compared with today’s airplanes. There was a belief that at the edge of the world, the ocean disappeared and there were sea monsters that would swallow ships up whole. We know that is not the case today but back then even during the Renaissance there were still some people scared of the monsters that were hiding beyond what you could see over the horizon.

During the Renaissance, the Portuguese were becoming experts at making maps and the first globe was produced as well. Here are some pictures of Old World maps and early globes.

Learning that the world was round opened up transportation like nothing else before. Suddenly, the thought of seeing what was on the other side of the world was now possible and people were eager to find secret trade routes to China or just to find new land to claim for their King.

Finding out the world was round was the most important discovery during the Renaissance.

Navigation Technology

The use of navigational technology during the Renaissance allowed ships to sail away from seeing land. Before this, if a ship sailed away from land and got lost and never came back, people thought that it sailed off the end of the world or got eaten up by a sea monster. We know now that they just got lost and sunk most likely by a storm.

The compass and the quadrant were the tools of choice during the Renaissance. The compass had been around for a long time can tell us what direction we are traveling. Here is a picture of an early compass.

Chinese Compass
Renaissance Compass

The quadrant can tell what latitude you are on the Earth to figure out how far South or North you are. The astrolabe is an advanced version of the quadrant. Here is what a quadrant and an astrolabe would look like.


The quadrant was such an important tool that it is shown on many stamps and in art work from all over the world. Here’s a couple of pictures to look at.

We still use compasses today and although GPS has replaced the quadrant, engineers use a similar tool (but a lot more cool) called the “Total Station.” We got to see one when Sid came to tell us about quadrants. Here’s a picture of the “Total Station.”

Ship Design

The ships that were used during the Renaissance changed as well. The designs were made better as they got to know about them. Before the Renaissance, going across the ocean wasn’t even thought of and most sailors never left the sight of land for very long. The boats were small, and only had one mast and were generally used for trade. The boats got bigger as time went on and then they started getting smarter about how ships would act in the open ocean with wind and currents and tides to deal with. Ship design continued to advance and get better with each new design.

Prior to the Renaissance, ships were steered by use of a “side oar” that would hang off the back of the boat. The Renaissance saw a “rudder” being incorporated into the design that could be steered directly or with ropes. This made steering a ship much easier.

Sails went through a change as well. The development of LATEEN rigged sails allowed a ship to sail more into the wind which a SQUARE rigged sail would have more difficulty doing. Top sails were being added above the main sail allowing for more wind to be used by the ship making the ships go faster than before.

If you want to learn more about the ships of the Renaissance, click HERE.

The Renaissance was a time of change and innovation. We hope that you’ve learned about some of the things we have talked about during our inquiry.

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