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
GEORGES DOUKING – LES ANIMAUX FABULEUX
JEAN COCTEAU – LES LÉZARDS
Lizards are the historic symbol of the village
GILBERT VALENTIN – LES TOURNESOLS
FABIENNE BARRE (2008)
On the side wall of the Marie, with a view of the village
ANGEL PONCE DE LÉON – BLUE TIME (1961)
HENRI GOETZ – LE PYTHON ET SA COURONNE EN VERT ET OR (1961)
Céret lies south of Perpignan, in the foothills of the Pyrenees quite close to the Spanish border. The Hermitage is a short distance to the north. The modern art museum in Céret has many works by Picasso, including sculpture and ceramics; and by other famous artists of the period.
This enjoyably rustic sundial is painted directly onto the facade of the C13 chapel (restoration C18). It is intriguing for the way in which the radials are moored, carefully graduated, on the diagonal of the dial face. The arrow gnomon forms part of the opposite diagonal. As an amateur, to me the design of the dial looks quite complicated, especially the calculation of the angle and distance between 11 & noon.
I am still trying to work out the inscription at the top. It seems to be ‘Ultimum’, which could be a neat Latin way of saying something like ‘To the end of Time / Jusqu’ à la fin du temps’
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.