The life of runs. This is how life goes. This Latin aphorism that alludes to the brevity of existence is painted in fresco on the head of the sundial that has presided over the façade of a sumptuous possession in Son Boronat, in the Majorcan municipality of Calvià. And so life passes for Miguel Angel Garcia Arrando (Barcelona, 1954): traveling the geography of the Balearic island in the search and cataloging of these “simple astronomical instruments that for centuries have provided the best temporal measurement system”. In 30 years of painstaking research “To recover and preserve this forgotten part of the cultural heritage” he has become an expert in gnomonics —the science that studies solar clocks—, bringing to light and putting in value a total of 968 watches from different periods and styles. A detailed solar cartography for the preparation of which he has kicked, camera in hand, squares and streets of the 53 municipalities that make up Mallorca, where he has obtained permission from individuals and institutions to enter more than 2,500 buildings, from simple country houses to large country estates, churches, convents or public buildings to “certify the authenticity” of these devices.
This herculean mission, which he considers unfinished – “there are always people who put you on the trail of new locations” -, had from the beginning “with a little funding” from the Consell de Mallorca, which while receiving the findings of García Arrando discovered that the island, in addition to a paradise of sun and beach, is a fabulous eden of solar quadrants, being one of the territories of Europe, after Cuneo, in the Italian region of Piedmont, with the highest presence per square kilometer. This overabundance could have been even greater in the past, but to this day only those specimens that were built in the middle of the 18th century have arrived, “in a relatively acceptable state”. Illustration, “When they identified themselves as a symbol of knowledge and progress”Says García Arrando. A splendor that declined with the implementation of the current time system at the beginning of the 20th century, “which caused its inexorable deterioration, leading to the disappearance of the most primitive and the precarious state of the existing ones.”
There is no consensus on the historical origin of sundials, but it is known that Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, thanks to their advanced knowledge in mathematics and astronomy, they used this ancient system of time measurement to calculate the best times for planting and harvesting crops in the delta of the Nile And in the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Probably the sundial was definitely introduced in Mallorca thanks to the intense commercial flow with other Mediterranean towns such as Phoenicians Y Greeks, But what is certain is that during the Roman domination (123 BC – 465 AD) concave clocks were built similar to those found in other settlements in the Peninsula (Rubí, Mérida or Cádiz) in order to to order the military and social life of the colonies. Unfortunately not the slightest trace has remained, nor of those raised by the Jewish scientific community that was established on the island during the 14th century and that came to make astrolabes —Gadgets generally used in maritime navigation to determine the position and height of the stars above the sky — and other astronomical instruments expressly commissioned by the Crown of Aragon.
The oldest specimen of which there is evidence in Mallorca is located in the municipality of Artà, in the northeast of the island. It was built in 1624. “The style or gnomon —the element that acts as a needle and that casts a shadow as the Earth moves — is not the original, but its support is perfectly legible despite erosion,” explains García Arrando. The poor conservation of some of the watches is sometimes aggravated by “the disastrous result of alleged restorations”, which have caused some to be irretrievably damaged. That was one of the reasons why, together with Rafel Soler and Juan Serra, two other gnomonic enthusiasts like him, García Arrando began in 2007 to provide altruistic advice on rehabilitation work, both for individuals and institutions. For now, he has participated in half a dozen interventions.
This expert recommends three routes to discover this fragile heritage threatened by oblivion. To observe it requires patience and attention, since the action of the elements has caused many to be confused among the old stones of the buildings.
Time, life and death in the center of Palma
A walk through the historic center of Palma allows you to discover a rich variety of these sugar mills. On the porch of the Juan Carlos I squareRight in front of the elegant Paseo del Borne, there is a first limestone specimen from 1900 presided over by a large central Sun. Almost no one notices it, since its elevated location makes it difficult to appreciate its beauty. Very close is the church of saint nicholas. On one of its sides, another clock indicates the morning hours since 1750, which is when the Sun is reflected in that part of the temple. Its quadrilateral has detachments at the edges, which is not the case with the one that presides over the pediment of the san francisco church, in the neighborhood of La Calatrava, baptized as the sailors’ clock. If we return our steps towards the Plaza Mayor, the number 1 of the Bosseria street It exhibits on its façade a clock with excellent sgraffito and a style with double support. Its central location, between two upper balconies, does not go unnoticed since it was installed in 1888. In the neighboring Santa Eulalia square, one of the oldest in the city, an elaborate sculptural group represents time, life and death, although the clock is difficult to observe because, like the one that starts this route, it is very high.
If we take the narrow Portella street In the direction of the sea, at number 8, a small elliptical clock that has been operating since the beginning of the 20th century bursts in, supported by an angel of enormous dimensions, for only three hours a day because the narrowness of the road prevents more light from entering. . A few meters from that place, in the clastra o central courtyard of the episcopal palace There is a combination of a noble coat of arms and a profusely ornamented sundial, dated 1734 but restored in 1998. It is a vertical clock oriented to the west, in which the detachment of material caused by the oxidation of the style can be appreciated. On another wall in the same courtyard you can see a second copy from 1750.
Ortos and sunsets on the seafront
Once there, we are close to the seafront, the beginning of another itinerary to discover more recently built clocks that make the most of the brightness of the bay of Palma. One of the most curious is the one that rests in the Parque del Mar, next to the maritime customs building. It’s about a analemmatic clock; that is, instead of a gnomon, it uses the shadow cast by the beholder to mark the hours. A plate at its base explains how it works. A little further, on the old pier, on the Camino de la Escollera that goes into the Mediterranean, a complex cylindrical equatorial clock It reflects on the concrete the solar time and also the mean time (the official one). You have to approach the Auditorium area, further west, to find one inspired by primitives scaphes greek, but with a gnomon parallel to the earth’s axis. It was built in the eighties of the last century, in the same period as the two more classical copies that burst onto the landscaped esplanade of the nets drying, on the Paseo de Sagrera. With a very precise technique, they have hourly lines every five minutes, a zodiacal calendar and hours of sunrise and sunset.
This route can be completed with a visit to the old fishing village of Portitxol, on the outskirts of the city, where there is a set of four clocks oriented to each cardinal point, or the one located on the Pelaires pier, an original two-sided watch: the upper one works in spring and summer, and the lower one, in autumn and winter.
Secrets of the Migjorn
After Palma, with 112 watches, Llucmajor and Felanitx, both in the region of Migjorn, are the towns with the largest population of these mills. In Llucmajor, several are dated between 1766 and 1788, and in them the traits of the same author can be appreciated. Something similar happens in Felanitx, where an acquaintance gnomista From the 18th century, he carried out numerous commissions in the town and in neighboring towns. And it is that three quarters of the almost a thousand watches cataloged in Mallorca are in the classics possessions or in the innumerable country houses on the island, where they always enjoyed locations in visible and sunny places. In one of them you can still read in Catalan: Hours pass, works remain. The hours pass, the works remain.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.