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Europe’s Eight Winds in the Heavens by Tom Bisio

In ancient China physicians and Qi Gong experts delineated Eight Winds that affect many aspects of human life – climate, crops,  human health, and internal energy. In our recent book, Eight Winds in the Heavens: Seasonal Health Secrets and Qi Gong Exercises from Daoist Sages that Prevent Disease and Promote Optimal Health and Vitality, by Tom Bisio and Valerie Ghent, the concept of wind and its relation to health and disease, and living life in harmony with nature is discussed in great detail. This book will be reissued and available in paperback very soon.

Interestingly, the importance of understanding climate and wind in relation to health, lifestyle and diseases is not specific to China. Europe also has a tradition of categorizing eight distinct winds and their impact on the natural world.  Understanding Europe’s eight winds allows one to even more specifically adapt principles from the book Eight Winds in the Heavens to the European environment.

Europe’s Eight Winds

Recently when walking through a small seaside town in Italy, my wife Valerie and I happened on a small square by the sea with a stone and cement inlay of the eight compass points at the center. As you can see from the photo below on this rosa dei venti (wind rose), a specific wind is associated with each of the eight directions. Historically, seafaring maps had a rosa di venti drawn on the map as a guide to the different winds and their directions, and the traditional names for these winds are still in use today.

We found this particularly fascinating because in our book, Eight Winds in the Heavens: Seasonal Health Secrets and Qi Gong Exercises From Daoist Sages that Prevent Disease and promote Optimal Health and Vitality, we presented the Chinese concept of the Eight Winds, and their effects on the environment and the human body. However this concept is not specific to China. Eight distinctive winds, related to the eight compass points, each with a specific nature and observable characteristics, is an ancient concept that still exists today in Europe.

The picture above and the diagram below show the Italian names for each wind:

  1. Maestrale (NW)
  2. Tramontana (N)
  3. Grecale (NE)
  4. Levante (E)
  5. Sirocco (SE)
  6. Ostro (S)
  7. Libeccio (SW)
  8. Poniente (W)

In France these winds are known by similar names:

1. Tramontana/Tramontane (N)

The Tramontana is a strong, cold, and dry north wind which gathers up masses of icy cold air form the Alps, pushing it southward toward the Mediterranean. The high-pressure air flows south, gathering speed as it moves downhill and is funneled between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. Tramontana, or Tramontane, literally means “beyond or across the mountains.” Unlike some of the other winds, which are associated with a specific country or area, the Tramontanta it is found almost everywhere in the Mediterranean – France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia.[1] Tramontane/Tramontana is a classical name for a northern wind. The exact form of the name and precise direction varies a bit from country to country.

The Tramontane is most common in winter. It is similar to the Mistral wind in its causes and effects, and because these two winds cover roughly the same region, the Tramontane is often mistaken for the Mistral in France. The two winds follow slightly different corridors; the Tramontane accelerates as it passes between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, while the mistral flows down the Rhone Valley between the Alps and the Massif Central. Yet they are close enough to cause confusion and French people in Provence often refer to any wind coming from these corridors as “the Mistral.” One clear difference is that they differ in intensity and duration. The Mistral can last up to a week and the Tramontane usually just for a day.

2. Maestrale/Mistral (NW)

The Maestrale (Masterly), also called the Maestro, is a strong, violent, cold, northwesterly wind which blows from the Rhone Valley into the Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean Sea. The Maestrale is particularly prevalent in Sardinia. It is a strong, cold wind that is persistent in the winter months. In France this wind is called the Mistral. The Mistral is a chilling wind that comes down the Rhone Valley from the mountains to take the place of the hot air that rises from the Camargue.[2] It is especially strong in the winter and spring and often blows consistently for periods of 5-7 days.

The Mistral accelerates as it passes through the narrow valleys of the Rhone and Durance Rivers. The velocity is often 45 mph, but can reach velocities of 80 mph at the Rhone Delta. Trees are often permanently bent in the direction of the wind. Cyprus trees, a common feature in the French countryside, often have the greater bulge of growth on the side of the tree that is sheltered form the wind (southeast side). Traditional French farmhouses (called “mas”) were built with their back to the northwest and have a minimum of windows on that side. Often a row of cypress trees is planted as a windbreak to shelter the house and garden from the Mistral.[3]  In Provence the bell towers of churches often have an open iron framework so the wind can pass through without causing damage, and streets in small towns are often curved so they don’t become wind tunnels.

When it blows for days at a time, the Mistral’s unrelenting pressure and roar keeps people indoors. People say it makes their pets misbehave, causes headaches, and makes it difficult to sleep. It is even said to drive people mad, and is called le vent qui rend fou (“the wind that drives you crazy”). One bit of folklore is that people who committed a crime of passion under the influence of the Mistral got a lighter sentence.[4] All myths aside, my own experience with the Mistral is that if can cause Wind Disease and Windstroke.

The Mistral has a major influence all along the Mediterranean coast of France, and often causes sudden storms in the Mediterranean between Corsica and the Balearic Islands. However it is partially the Mistral that causes sunny climate in the Provence and Languedoc area with 2700-2900 hours of sunshine a year due to the dry and clear air. When other regions of France have clouds and misty air, the South of France area is rarely affected, since the Mistral quickly clears the sky, pushing dust and pollution away.[5] Because the Mistral is a dry wind, it also eliminates moisture on vegetation. The dryness gets rid of excess moisture. All of this greatly aids the production of Languedoc, Provence and Rhône Valley wines by providing bright, sunny days for growing grapes and preventing mildew, fungus and bacteria from growing on the vines.

3. Grecale/Gregale (NE)

The Gracale wind, also known as Greco, is a cold, northeastern wind from the direction of Greece and the countries on the eastern side of the Adriatic. It blows very violently along the coasts of Istria, Dalmatia and in the Quarnaro. The Grecale blows from autumn through early spring. The Grecale can be translated to mean “Greek wind” as the wind starts at the Ionian Islands. In the northern Adriatic area, on the coasts of Friuli, Venezia, Giulia, and Croatian Istria, it is normally called “the Bora.” The Grecale occurs under particular pressure conditions.

4. Levate/Levant (E)

The English name for the Levate wind is the Levanter. It refers to the Levant – the area of the Middle East bounded by the Taurus Mountains to the north, the Mediterranean in the West, and the Arabian Desert in the north. In Roussillon, France it is called “Levant” and in Corsica, “Levante”. In the western Mediterranean, particularly when the wind blows through the Strait of Gibraltar, it is called the “Viento de Levante”, or the Levanter. It is also known as the Solano.[6]

The Levante rises in the southern coasts of France and Spain. The Levante is an easterly wind experienced in the Western Mediterranean. The wind blows from the Alboran Channel and through the Strait of Gibraltar, sometimes with very high winds experienced in the Strait of Gibraltar, extending into the Bay of Cadiz. It is a dominant feature in the province of Cadiz.

When blowing moderately or strongly the Levante causes heavy swells on the Mediterranean, reaching its greatest intensity through the Strait of Gibraltar. The winds are well known for creating a particular cloud formation above the Rock of Gibraltar, The Levante is the wind coming from the East (its opposite, the Poniente, comes from the West in the Atlantic).

The Levante reaches maximum intensity in the Strait of Gibraltar, where it creates headwinds that can actually slow eastward-flying airplanes. It also causes foggy weather on the Spanish coast.[7] The Levante may occur at any time of the year, but is most frequent from July to October and in March. Alternating with its westerly counterpart, the Poniente, it affects the Gibraltar Strait on and off throughout the year.[8] The winds can reach gale force in the spring.

5. Sirocco (SE)

The Sirocco is a hot, dry wind that blows from the Southeast. It generally blows in the spring and autumn. The Sirocco is a warm, dry and dust-laden local wind that blows in a somewhat northerly direction from the Sahara Desert and North Africa. It blows northward of the Sahara towards North Africa and Sicily and can affect Corsica, and the south of France. The Sirocco can pick up moisture as it crosses the Mediterranean. The Sirocco carries with it red dust and sand from North Africa and the Sahara, which when it is deposited is sometimes called “blood rain.” Combined with a high tide, in late fall the Sirocco contributes to the “acqua alta” (high water) that can flood parts of Venice.

When the Sirocco blows, it is a palpably hot wind that makes one feel uncomfortable. I have several times experienced this in the South of France and found my car covered in red sand from North Africa. The Sirocco is generated by a Saharan depression that sucks in the warm tropical air above the Sahara Desert and then moves Northward. The Sirocco can be accompanied by clouds, yellowish fogs, and rains, and can lead to violent storms. Like the Mistral, the Sirocco is commonly perceived as causing unease and an irritable mood in people. Some studies suggest an  increased incidence of coronary events during the Sirocco.[9]

6. Ostro/Marin (S)

Ostro, or Austro, comes from the Latin “auster”, meaning southern wind. It is also known in Italy as the “Mezzogiorno.” It is a warm and humid wind that often carries rain, but it can also be a dry wind that brings gusts of heat, when associated with the formation of the African subtropical anticyclone towards the north. Due to its origin in the south, the Ostro is sometimes confused with the Libeccio and Sirocco winds, which are both winds that blow from the south. The presence of the Ostro wind in Italy brings hot air from the south.

In France, this wind is known as the Marin. Marin means “coming from the sea”. The Marin wind is a warm and damp marine wind blowing inland from the Mediterranean (south-east) and often brings with it low clouds and mist, and a humid atmosphere. The Marin is a warm, moist wind in the Gulf of Lion that blows from the southeast or south-southeast onto the coast of Languedoc and Rousssillon. It can bring rain and coastal fog to this region. The Marin contributes to the creation the Autan, another regional wind in France.

The Autan is strong, hot and dry. It blows from the southeast into south-central France, especially in Gascony and the upper Garonne River. There are two Autan winds –the Autan Blanc (White) and Autan Noire (Black). The Autan Blanc brings dry weather, cold in winter, hot in summer, as a result of the downslope motion imposed by the Pyrenees and southern Cevenne Mountains on the south-east of the Massif Central in France. It can bring severe drought. The Autan Noire is more cloudy and humid and is often associated with the Marin.

7. Libeccio (SW)

Libeccio means “Libyan.” Libeccio is the Italian name for a southwestely wind that blows throughout the year over Corsica and the Côte d’Azur. In Corsican this wind is called the Libecciu. The Libeccio brings rain and thunderstorms in summer and autumn. In winter it alternates with the Tramontane. The Libeccio crosses Corsica and Italy, and is accompanied by heavy rainfall in winter, while in summer this wind is associated with dry and mild weather. Unlike the Scirocco, although it is a wind of southern origin, when it arrives in Italy it does not produce sultriness and heat.

The Libeccio is at its most intense during the winter when changes in air temperature and pressure are the most distinct and the wind increases. Fast-moving thunderstorms are typical for the Libeccio, and can be identified by a dark wall of ominous-looking clouds to the west. Libeccio winds can also be accompanied by high waves.[10]

8. Poniente (W)

The Poniente is a cool and more humid westerly wind that comes from the Atlantic Ocean and moves west to east. Its name is derived from the verb ponere (to set), because it comes from the direction of the setting sun. As the air flow of the Poniente progresses, it gradually loses moisture and the temperatures rise, causing the east coast of Spain to experience dry and warm winds.[11] Thus, depending on where you are, the Poniente can bring cool moist winds that make the crops greener, and creates rain as the wind contacts the Sierra de Cádiz mountains, or it can be drier and warmer.

The Poniente is the opposite of the Levante (which blows from the east through the straits of Gibraltar), and these two winds can switch frequently throughout the year. The Poniente brings, clear and mostly dry weather. Any westerly wind in this area is often called the Poninete. [12]

During winter and spring the Levante may turn into a southwesterly squally gale. Once this wind and its cold front have passed and high pressure builds up again, the winds turn westerly or northwesterly and are now called Poniente. When the Poniente is blowing, visibility increases significantly and the opposite shores of Africa can be seen from Gibraltar.[13]

It is interesting to see that Europe has long known of the effects of the various seasonal winds on human beings, health, crops, and animals, and that life was, and to some degree is, still structured around the winds and the weather they bring. This is particularly true in agricultural areas of Europe. In Provence, where we have spent a fair amount of time, the Mistral and Tramontane are very real forces that can be felt and experienced, and life in the local area, to some degree, still accommodates to these winds. Although modern medicine and modern living have supplanted some of the folk and farmer’s almanac wisdom related to these natural forces, local people are still very aware of the effects of wind. Understanding the Chinese model of the Eight Winds as it relates to health and vitality can be very helpful in understanding the natural forces of wind and weather in other parts of the world.

[1] The Tramontane: a northern wind ideal for experienced sailors and windsurfers:

[2] Finding Your Way Without a Compass, Harold Gatty. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications Inc., 1983) p. 96.

[3] Ibid, p.113-114.

[4] Curious Histories of Provence: Tales Form the South of France. Margo Lestz (Lo0ndon: Boo-Tickety Publishing) p. 21-22.

[5] The Tramontane: a northern wind ideal for experienced sailors and windsurfers:




[9] Michałkiewicz D, Chwiałkowski J, Dziuk M, Olszewski R, Kamiński G, Skrobowski A, Cholewa M. Wplływ warunków atmosferycznych na wystepowanie napadowego migotania przedsionków [The influence of weather conditions on the occurrence of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation]. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2006




[13] Ibid