VILLEFRANCHE-DE-CONFLENT is a small medieval walled town in Catalan country. It is watched over by Fort Liberia, one of VAUBAN‘s massive defensive constructions in this historically strategic area. The town is charming, and additionally famous for being the start of the ‘Train Jaune’, a picturesque narrow-gauge railway that climbs high into the Pyrénées. The amazing altitude rise is from 1250 ft at Villefranche to 5000 ft at the track’s summit just above the village of Mont Louis (which has its own Vauban fort)
The sundial above is high up on a house in the church square, next to the Mairie with its Catalan flag. It doesn’t exactly draw the eye and would be very easy to miss. Its overall appearance is endearingly wonky.
TWO DIALS IN ONE
The main dial is etched and painted on cement, with roman numerals that mark hours, halves and quarters. The long gnomon is attached beneath a small sculpted head from which sun rays radiate – a simple representation of a solar deity. Above the head can be seen numbers, of which only 11 and 8 can be made out with any certainty. Possibly, it is a date: the dial (which is not ancient) is otherwise undated and it is very hard to guess its age. I can find no explanation for the initials DS (top left, Gothic font) and ER (top right, normal font).
The small dial-within-a-dial with graduated radials shows the hours only, with arabic numerals. The bent gnomon points straight down. I am unsure of its purpose as a supplementary – and rather overshadowed – dial on the same plane, but the overall effect is pleasing.
The words “COM MES SOL FA MES BE ESCRIC” are Catalan and mean roughly “When it is sunny, I write (show the time) well”. This rather charming inscription was apparently added in around 2000 by the village pastor.
Credit: for information, Michel Lalos, who has compiled a comprehensive illustrated record of the sundials of the Pyrénées-Orientales.