MONUMENTAL SUNDIAL . MUSEO GALILEO . FLORENCE

Lizard / Viper Gnomon of Monumental Dial . Museo Galileo . Florence

MONUMENTAL SUNDIAL . MUSEO GALILEO . FLORENCE

The Museo Galileo‘s Monumental Sundial was built as a mathematical ornament in 2007. The slender bronze column (stele) is in fact formed from two matching columns closely aligned, symbolising day and night. The (mid)day stele faces south, with a vertical meridian line on which the shadow is cast by a lizard’s tail (actually, an imaginary half-lizard, half-viper). The night stele faces north and signifies the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor that enable the Pole Star to be identified.

Monumental Dial . Museo Galileo . Florence

The encircled quadrant design on the pavement at the base of the bronze columns indicates the geographic orientation. This glass base of the gnomon, and also the Zodiac signs in the meridian line (below), are up-lit after dark.

Orientation dial . Monumental Dial . Museo Galileo . Florence

The Museo explains the meridian line in helpfully simple terms: A travertine and brass meridian line is drawn on the pavement, flanked with glass and marble signs of the Zodiac. The meridian line extends for about 15 metres from the museum entrance, where the winter solstice is marked, to the base of the gnomon, where the summer solstice is marked. The travertine curves crossing the meridian line indicate the date. The brass radial lines forming a grid with the two solstitial curves indicate the hours.

The seasons and the four elements are symbolised by the choice of materials: travertine for the earth and autumn; glass for the water and winter; grey stone for the air and spring; bronze for the fire and summer.

LIZARD / VIPER GNOMON ON THE SOUTH FACE OF THE COLUMN

This extraordinary sundial stands by the Arno with the Ponte Vecchio (which itself has a wonderful dial LINK) close by to the west. For anyone with even a minuscule interest in or curiosity about the gradual development of scientific instruments and techniques from medieval times onwards, pay a visit to the excellent online gallery LINK. Look in particular for the two astronomical telescopes made by Galileo himself.

The North American Sundial Society has very good online information about this unique dial. You can watch a short animation of how this gnomonic sundial works here LINK

For those interested in finer details of the way the dial works, the museum’s detailed account is included at the end of this article.

Museo Galileo – Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza

Museo Galileo – Monumental Sundial

NASS (North American Sundial Society) Video: Filippo Camerota, Luise Schnabel, Giorgio Strano

How the Sundial works

The shadow cast by the glass polyhedron atop the large bronze gnomon indicates the date and time. The hours from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM are marked out by radial brass lines. The date is indicated by the travertine traversal lines which mark the Sun’s diurnal course for various periods of the year – precisely when the Star enters the signs of the Zodiac. The shadow cast by the gnomon changes in length during the course of the days and seasons, and indicates true solar time for the place where it is located, which is a different time than that of our wristwatches, known as mean time. In respect to mean timetrue solar time has a periodic variation that can exceed a quarter of an hour.

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Moreover, during daylight saving time, the hands of a clock are moved forward one hour. For example, true midday in the month of February would be indicated by the sundial around 12:28 AM while in the month of July it would be indicated around 1:20 PM daylight saving time.

To read the hour and date, you have to identify the hour lines and the calendrical lines closest to the gnomon’s shadow. When the shadow does not fall exactly on a hour line, you can read the half-hours and quarters with close approximation by ideally subdividing the space between two hour lines in two or four parts. The date can also be read by referring to the Zodiac signs and the start of the months marked out along the meridian line.

© 2018 – 2022 Museo Galileo – Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza
Piazza dei Giudici 1 · 50122 Firenze · ITALIA
tel. +39 055 265 311 – P.I. 01346820481

LLUC MONASTERY . MALLORCA . COMPLEX MULTI-DIAL: from Canonical to 20th Century

Multiple Vertical Sundial, Lluc Monastery, Mallorca (Keith Salvesen)
Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial (Keith Salvesen)

The secluded Monastery of Lluc is situated near Escorca in the Tramuntana mountains of Mallorca. It dates from the c13, and is famous for its Black Madonna, the discovery of which is said to have led to the monastery’s foundation . It is a place of pilgrimage. The location is remote and peaceful, though inevitably the monastery has become an essential stop on the tourist and coach party trail. We returned there recently, not having visited Mallorca for more than 20 years. The buildings were much as we remembered, but the parking and visitor arrangements were more regimented and complex. Before, one just drove down the narrow road from the main mountain road and parked in the forecourt area close to the buildings. Now, everything is (unsurprisingly) geared to a daily mass influx of people and their needs for sustenance and souvenirs. We were pleased to see that it is still possible to stay at Lluc in one of small rooms under a long covered walk where the monks once slept. You can even book a room for the night.

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial

A short walk from the monastery, there is a path that leads up to a calvary and some great views. Along the way is an amazing multiple vertical sundial. It was designed by Rafael Soler, and carved in 1991. It displays with some style the evolution of sundials from medieval to modern. There are two historical dials, one solar dial, and two seasonal dials.

CANONICAL HOURS – LATINATE

This dial simply records the 3-hourly canonical divisions of the liturgical day (as with the early medieval mass / scratch dials), starting with midnight (top) and working counterclockwise round a central gnomon. 

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial (Canonical)

CANONICAL HOURS – BABYLONIAN / MALLORQUIN

A more complex dial, starting at noon shown as XXIV (I’m not clear why not XII) through to 21.00. The dial includes months and the signs of the Zodiac.

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial – Babylonian / Mallorquines

TEMPS VERTADER – TRUE SOLAR TIME

The centre dial shows true solar time. The polar gnomon (triangular) shows the hours, the pointer shows the date with the declination lines. The inscription MULIER AMICTER SOLE (Woman Clothed by the Sun) references an account in the Book of Revelations. You can find out more HERE

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial

MEAN TIME DIAL (SUMMER /AUTUMN)

The two right-hand sundials are complementary and each covers two seasons. Presumably for a particular month, one dial will be reliable as to time and the ‘off-season’ one will not. The words are Catalan eg Hores Mitjanes = Mean Time; Estiu I Tardor = Summer and Autumn.

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial

MEAN TIME DIAL (WINTER / SPRING)

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca – Sundial
BBS Record

The creation of these dials was obviously a labour of love and skill combined. There’s doubtless plenty more to be said about these sundials and the splendid ensemble but I decided not to get too technical – indeed, as an amateur I don’t understand enough to do so. The rather washed out appearance of the images was operator error – I had the camera on the wrong settings and didn’t realise until too late…

Lluc Monastery . Mallorca

GSS Category: canonical to modern multi-dial; sundial Lluc Mallorca

All photos: Keith Salvesen; snippet from BSS record

Original Credits: ‘Props to arby101ca and lumbricus, members of a geocaching & waymarking website called Groundspeak. They hiked to Lluc (respect!) and wrote informatively about these dials. I found relatively little elsewhere.

HAUTRIVE . ORNE . NORMANDY . ÉGLISE SAINT-MARTIN – Scratch Dial

St Martin . Hautrive . Orne . Normandy

ST MARTIN . HAUTERIVE . ORNE . NORMANDY

This unassuming little village is about 10 kms NE of Alençon, in the lower part of an area of Normandy south of Caen where medieval dials can be found on a number of village churches. Mostly, they are single examples but a handful of churches have a profusion of dials that are quite hard even to count let alone analyse.

DIAL

St Martin . Hautrive . Orne . Normandy – Scratch Dial

The dial is quite complex. Its position is on the quoin of the chancel, however the only reference I have found suggests it was at one time on the R side of the main doorway. The church is obviously well looked-after and its care may have involved relocation of stones when repairs were carried out.

The details of the dial’s semicircular design are intricate. There is a big blocked gnomon hole that must have been enlarged over the years from something more proportionate. The noon line is emphasised by a large terminal pock. 10± visible lines radiate from the centre, though there must have been more. Most end in pocks: some single, some double, some triple. The pocks themselves have small lines around them, or 2 are joined to each other. Overall, the impression is of a perfectly serviceable traditional Mass dial that has been made enjoyably decorative.

I have included close-ups of the lower quadrants of the dial together with side shots to better show the complexity of the dial in its eroded state. I have never encountered one quite like this.

GSS Category: Scratch Dial; Mass Dial; Medieval Dial France

All photos: Keith Salvesen

ST RÉMY DU VAL . SARTHE . NORMANDY . FRANCE – St Rémy et St Rigomer

St Rémy et St Rigomer . St Rémy du Val . Normandy

St Rémy du Val is about 12m SE of Alençon, in a countryside of fields and forests. The church of St Rémy et St Rigomer stands high above the river Bienne, beside a now-ruined small castle. It has early origins but dates mainly from C15. The strong tower also had a defensive purpose. At some stage a small and attractive renaissance double doorway was added, a pleasing architectural contrast.

DIAL

St Rémy et St Rigomer . St Rémy du Val . Normandy – scratch dial

The dial is located on the SW face of the buttress shown in the foreground of the header image. There is a definite tilt to this part of the church supported by the buttress, and to the adjacent buildings (the photo exaggerates it considerably).

I wasn’t expecting to find a dial (or even looking for one), and I was lucky to see such an unobtrusive example as we walked past. I later discovered that there is one other mention of it, and of a possible small dial close to it.

The dial is considerably eroded and quite badly damaged in the lower R quadrant. Close-to, its relative sophistication is evident. The radials are within a double circle and as far as one can tell do not overlap the inner circumference. Almost certainly the lines were incised all the way round the gnomon hole. There is a hint that in the lower half – or perhaps just the lower L quadrant – there are half-hour marks as well. Perhaps these details suggest a C16 dial.

St Rémy et St Rigomer . St Rémy du Val . Normandy – scratch dial (detail)

SMALL DIAL?

Michael Lalos, who runs a very good site for French sundials of all types, also found this small design. At first sight it doesn’t look very promising as a dial, and might perhaps be an apotropaic symbol. However in the last year I have found 2 or 3 very similar designs that in their context were most likely intended as dials.

GSS Category: Scratch Dial

All photos Keith Salvesen except the last pair, Michael Lalos

BARFLEUR . FRANCE . Saint-Nicolas – Vertical Dial

Barfleur is a small town / large village on the NE tip of the Contentin peninsula in Normandy, roughly due E of Cherbourg. The church of St Nicolas, despite the initial impression, was built mid-C17. Later additions and restoration mid-C19 incorporated an impressively large sundial (it doesn’t seem to have been a later addition).

The face of the dial has almost entirely been obliterated, with half a dozen very faint lines just visible in the lower L quadrant. There is also the hint of a frame under the cast shadow, though it might simply be the remains of a horizontal line. Erosion by the sea over many decades has made the details speculative. The gnomon may possibly be original. Whether or not, the design of the tip is clever and includes a small hole at the tip that creates a neat spearhead.

GSS Category: Old Dial; Eurodial; French Sundial

All photos: Keith Salvesen

LAVAUDIEU . AUVERGNE . MAIRIE – Dial Simplicity

Lavaudieu is a small Auvergne town with a fine romanesque Abbey. For present purposes, the sundial on the wall of the Mairie is the attraction. On a bright sunny day, the simplicity and legibility of this civic dial is hard to beat. The ‘arrowheads’ might be considered a little too ornate for the overall design.

‘Moins est plus’ might be a good motto for the dial, as it is more generally. As soon as I saw it I knew it would be in my top 20 non-medieval dials. It still is.

GSS Category: Modern Dial

Photos: Keith Salvesen

LES CADRANS SOLAIRES DE COARAZE: CERAMIC TILE SUNDIALS IN PROVENCE

 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Jean Cocteau

LES CADRANS SOLAIRES: THE CERAMIC TILE SUNDIALS OF COARAZE, PROVENCE

The nine sundials shown below are in Coaraze, a small medieval ‘village perché’ (650m) in the Alpes-Maritimes, Provence, north of Nice. They include sundials by artistic polymath Jean Cocteau (poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, artist and filmmaker); Ponce de Leon; and Henri Goetz, among others. They are located in two places in the village (1) on the front and side walls of the Marie (2) at the top of the village on a south-facing walls in the square in front of the church. They need no interpretation by me: everyone who views these wonderful sundials will experience their own personal response to each one.

MONA CRISTIE – LA CHEVAUCHÉE DU TEMPS

Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Mona Cristie
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Mona Cristie

GEORGES DOUKING – LES ANIMAUX FABULEUX

Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Georges Douking
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Georges Douking

JEAN COCTEAU – LES LÉZARDS

Lizards are the historic symbol of the village

 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Jean Cocteau
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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Jean Cocteau

GILBERT VALENTIN – LES  TOURNESOLS     

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Gilbert Valentin
 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Gilbert Valentin

FABIENNE BARRE (2008)

On the side wall of the Marie, with a view of the village

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Fabienne Barre
 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Fabienne Barre

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Fabienne Barre

ANGEL PONCE DE LÉON – BLUE TIME (1961)        

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Angel Ponce de Léon

 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Angel Ponce de Léon

HENRI GOETZ – LE PYTHON ET SA COURONNE EN VERT ET OR (1961)           

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Henri Goetz
 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Henri Goetz

SACHA SOSNO (2007)        

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Sacha Sosno
 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Sacha Sosno

“BEN” – BENJAMIN VAUTIER (2008)

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Benjamin Vautier
 Cadrans Solaires Sundials Coaraze (© Keith Salvesen)
Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Benjamin Vautier

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence

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Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence

Cadrans Solaires . Ceramic Sundials . Coaraze . Provence – Benjamin Vautier
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ST GEORGES de BOSCHERVILLE . NORMANDY – a complex modern sundial

St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1

LES CADRANS SOLAIRES DE ST GEORGES de BOSCHERVILLE

This decorative sundial – one of two – is something rather special. It is both elegant and complex, and must have taken a long time to devise and lay out accurately. It stands in the extensive grounds of the fine Abbey Church of St Georges de Boscherville in Normandy. I managed to get the last small pamphlet in the Abbey bookshop. Even then I failed to understand the sundial properly, and not simply because of my rusty but workable French. I’m not even going to attempt to describe the dial, but it was easy to photograph in detail in its picturesque setting, and I have included a shot of the explanatory plaque at the end for the science-minded.

One fact I learnt is that until WWII, France was on Greenwich Meantime. During the occupation, the Germans changed the time zone to Central European time, a practice that has remained ever since.

St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1.1 1
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 1
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 2
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 3
St Martin de Boscherville Sundial 1. 1
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 4
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 5
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 6
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 7
St Georges de Boscherville Sundial 1.1. 8

GSS Category: Cadran Solaire Sphérique / Spherical Dial

All photos: Keith Salvesen

VERTICAL SUNDIAL AT ST GEORGES de BOSCHERVILLE

LINK

The Abbey in 1700

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PONTE VECCHIO . FLORENCE – ‘ UNEXPECTED TIMES’: A C14 SUNDIAL

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‘ UNEXPECTED TIMES’: A SUNDIAL ON THE PONTE VECCHIO

This article was written a while back, in the pre-Covid era. Now I have a sundial site up and running, this dial and some others from Florence have a new space.

Florence in January.  -8°C at night, zero during the day – but sunny enough in the middle of the day to be able to have coffee or even lunch outside. Apart from the Uffizi, no queues for anywhere. Most significant places on the tourist trail almost to oneself. Despite the cold, there is no frost: the air is so dry that the pavements, piazzas and even the cars are quite clear of frozen white crystals. By the river I caught the electric flash of a male kingfisher flying up from the water to an overhanging bush, his hunting perch. I watched him as he scanned the water below, occasionally diving down and returning to the same branch. Twice, I could see the glint of a tiny fish in his beak. 

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-5

Over the years I don’t know how often I have crossed the Ponte Vecchio – or even simply walked to the mid-point to admire the views up and down river from the open areas between the pricey shops. This time I was walking the length of the Vasari corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. A section runs straight over the bridge and then passes across the facade of Santa Felicita, into which the Medici family could sneak from the corridor to a large private balcony for spiritual refreshment. Passing the middle of the west side of the bridge, in the ‘tourist photo op’ gap where Cellini’s bust adds to the photogenic view, I have never before looked upwards.

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Here, on the roof of a shop, is an ancient sundial, supported by a white marble pillar. An eroded and almost illegible engraving below the pillar records that in 1333, floods caused the bridge to collapse and that “twelve years later, as pleased the Commune, it was rebuilt with this ornamentation”. The sundial itself, with its columnar divisions reminiscent of a rose window, marks the CANONICAL HOURS. The gnomon’s shadow indicates the hour of the day. If the sundial is the ‘ornamentation’ to which the inscription refers, then it is around 650 years old.

If you look closely, you’ll see, halfway up the south face of the hexagonal column, a lizardsundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-1

Seeing the sundial for the first time ever, yet in such a familiar place was a reminder that Florence is a city that demands great attention as one walks through the streets. Many buildings, even unassuming ones, have fine adornments high up that will catch the eye… but only if you are looking out for them. 

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L’ÉGLISE DE ST PIERRE . TOUQUES . NORMANDY – Early Sundial

St Pierre . Touques . Normandy

L’ÉGLISE DE ST PIERRE . TOUQUES . NORMANDY

A simple Romanesque church, the oldest in Calavados, dating from mid C11 with subsequent additions. There is scant information online – a few notes converted from French to English. Over the centuries the church was damaged by battles, by lightning strike, and sundry other misfortunes. One source notes In the 17th century the nave was amputated. By late C18 the church was abandoned and in C19 designated a Historic Monument. In C20 it was adapted as a cultural space for concerts and art exhibitions.

DIAL

This large dial is above the entrance doorway. It has roman numerals and a cross key decoration. There is no gnomon. The lower half is quite eroded. Mortar repair has been carried out rather enthusiastically. There is no date, and it is hard to determine how old the dial is. St Pierre was disused by 1800 so the dial, under its time-worn lintel, seems unlikely to have been added later. On the other hand there’s a sense that the present dial is a replacement for an older one. But a great deal older than the final one shown here.

St Pierre . Touques . Normandy – gnomon-less sundial of uncertain age

For comparison, the dial below is in Colmar (quite near Strasbourg). It never saw 1582.

GSS Category: Old Dial

Photos: Keith Salvesen; CC