Sundials on the Internet

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sundial trail of Milan and Bergamo

These notes are based on a very short visit to Northern Italy in October 1999.


The Duomo (cathedral) of Milan has a magnificent tiled floor, interrupted by a meridian line which runs nearly the full width of the building, and goes on for 3m. up the left hand wall. You will find it just inside the main entrance doors, in front of the small publications booth. The line is a brass strip, with white marble on either side. The signs of the zodiac are marked at appropriate intervals along the meridian line. There is a small hole in the wall high up on your right hand side as you enter the cathedral; a spot of light shines through the hole and casts a small circle of light on the floor around the time of solar noon. There is a printed table on the left hand wall showing the time of solar noon (together with sunrise and sunset)

According to the guide book, there is another sundial outside the cathedral as well, but I was not able to locate it.

While other sundials in Milan appear to be very few, there is a magnificent collection of sundials and other scientific instruments concerned with the sun at the Museo Poldi-Pezzoli which is quite close to the Duomo. There are some 230 exhibits in all, well displayed in three cases on the first floor. The museum is a delight - not a bit like the formal public art galleries (such as the Pinotecha Brera nearby) but with some really nice paintings displayed in fairly small rooms with furniture, china cabinets, etc, and some displays of other classes of objects such as sundials, clocks, and weapons.
The picture shows an ivory sun-dial in the shape of a ship known as a navicella. Posters of this sundial are sold in the museum.

The sundial display has many attractive portable dials, including two sundials combined with a small cannon fired by the sun's rays focused through a magnifying glass at noon, a curious horizontal sundial with a gnomon adjustable for latitude (though, since the lines on the dial plate are fixed, it would not be very accurate at any location other than the latitude it was designed for), and some shepherd's dials and astrolabes. Altogether unmissable!



Bergamo is a very interesting town located some 40 km. east of Milan, and accessible either by the blue motorway buses which leave from the Piazza Castello, or by train from the Central Station. The bus station and train station in Bergamo are very close together. Catch a no. 1 or 1A bus to the foot of the funicular railway, and take the funicular to ascend into the old town. From the terminus, walk directly across the square and up some steps into another small square. There is a group of 4 large sundials on the wall high up to your right.

Carry on in the same direction until you reach the Duomo (cathedral). In the colonnade opposite the main door of the cathedral is a very handsome meridian line. The central line is marked with the dates and months throughout the year. There are two subsidiary lines fanning out which indicate 15 minutes before noon, and 15 minutes after noon. Between these two outer lines, an analemma is engraved in the stone. High up in one of the arches of the collonnade is a disk with a central hole. Towards solar noon, a spot of light shines through the hole on the pavement, and gradually moves across the meridian line. When it is on the meridian line, it is exactly solar noon. When it crosses the hour-glass shape of the analemma, it is exactly local noon, which is about 11.35 by your watch (or 12.35 when daylight saving is in operation). This difference is because Bergamo is some 9 degrees west of the standard meridian for Central European Time, which is at the longitude of Prague.

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