The sundials of Sicily


When it comes to emotions, there is no point in looking at the clock, but it is better to look at the Sundials. Get ready to take a trip back in time, searching for the Sundials of Sicily. Sundials are marvellous devices that have always marked the hours, minutes and seconds in town squares and churches. Once, they were made of a rudimentary stick planted in the ground. The sun’s rays illuminated the bar, projecting a shadow on the floor. It permitted temporal orientation throughout the day.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans measured time using sundials. Gnomonics, i.e. the art of making sundials, is even older, with the first evidence dating back to the Neolithic period.

In Sicily, too, this tradition is very antique. The historian Plutarch tells us that Catania had a magnificent sundial. It was taken to Rome by the consul Messalla after the city’s conquest. That is how the tradition of making sundials began in Western civilisation.

The sundial of Catania

Sicily’s most monumental and complex sundial runs along the transept of the Church next to the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena in Catania. It was made between 1839 and 1841 by astronomers Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen and Christian Peters. It is considered the most detailed sundial in Italy and is amazingly precise. The sundial indicates noon on all days of the year, giving detailed information on its location, the famous landmarks in Catania, the signs of the zodiac, and the equinoxes and solstices.

The sundial of Modica

On the UNESCO World Heritage List appears the Cathedral of San Giorgio, it is the mother church of Modica. The Cathedral is the iconic symbol of Sicilian Baroque. The church is prodigious in its dramatic architecture. It houses a sundial designed in 1895 by the mathematician Armando Perini. The sun’s ray filters through a hole at the top right of the building. They mark noon on the North-South line drawn on the floor in front of the high altar.

The sundial of Palermo

On the floor inside the Cathedral of Palermo is a magnificent example of a horizontal sundial. This sundial type, has a line drawn on the floor indicating the North-South direction and a hole allowing a sunbeam to pass through. The light strikes the floor marking the noontime of the place. The design dates back to the 19th century, and since its realisation, interest in measuring time in Sicily has increased.

At midday, the sunlight filters at a 12 meters height through the dome and sets along the sundial axis. The brass line crosses a white marble with coloured marble details representing the months, seasons and corresponding zodiac symbols.

The sundial of Acireale

Walking along the central nave of the Acireale Cathedral, you can see a sundial similar to the one in Catania but less complicated. It was built in 1843 by the Danish astronomer Peters himself. Twelve marble panels reproduce the constellations and indicate the sun’s position in the celestial sphere throughout the year.

The sundial of Castroreale

The sundial carved on the floor of Castroreale Cathedral is very simple. The professor of classic literature, Nicola Perroni Basquez, designed it in 1854. The sundials inside churches are called “camera obscura” (or “hole”) sundials because, on the floor, the sunlight creates the image of the sun.

The sundial of Castiglione di Sicilia

In the Church of Santi Pietro e Paolo, in Castiglione di Sicilia, there is the only existing and working sundial of the Alcantara valley. The Palermitan astronomer Temistocle Zona, director of the Astronomical Observatory of Palermo, built the sundial in 1882.

The sundial of Grammichele

Grammichele is known as the city of sundials because has a different type of sundial in each one of its squares. In the centre of the magnificent main square is a huge monumental bronze statue by the Turkish artist Murat Cura. The statue depicts a man kneeling and ‘imprisoned’ by time, which is represented by circles that recall the ancient armillary sphere. The sculpture is part of the sundial that holds a gnomon pole, designed with the help of Professor Giovanni Brinch. This impressive sundial is made of three parts: the gnomon, the dial and a set of lines indicating the hours, the solstices, the equinoxes and the zodiac. It also shows the dates of the town Occhiolà destruction and Grammichele founding.


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