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Sun Dial in Český Krumlov

History and development of time measurement

The measurement of time and division of the year into shorter parts developed together with mankind from the very simple distinction between day and night, over to division of the seasons to division of the basic time unit of our ancestors - one day. A discovery of the regularity of planets revolving and distinguishing the Sun's orbit helped to quicken the development of chronometrical systems.

Church orders especially took part in the development and propagation of sun dials. In the 17th and 18th centuries sun dials were still especially for the decoration of facades of important houses. The study of the theory of sun dials, gnomonic, was taught on some universities in the 18th century.

Horní no. 154, Hotel Růže, graphic of sundial on the southern facade of the building

The basic principle of sun dial time measurement is based on the motion of a shadow caused by a stick during sunny weather on a lighted place where a dial is. The shadow represents a hand driven by the moving Sun. It was not easy to place sun dials in the town and mostly they were situated on the walls of large buildings, mostly churches, towers etc. facing the south or south-east. It is very rare to see such sun dials on walls situated on the north or west.

The dial's construction depends on what direction the wall is facing as well as on the shape of the stick (so-called stylus - taken from the Greek work "stylos" - stick) casting a shadow on the dial. The stylus is put in the wall horizontally normally or obliquely and parallel to the axis of the earth. The oblique stylus at horizontal level and at an angle equal to the local geographical latitude is called "polos".

Description of the sun dial in Český Krumlov

There are five sun dials in Český Krumlov. We can find here the sun dial with a "polos" as well as sun dials with Arabic and Roman numerals. These sun dials are half astronomical clocks that indicate time twice for twelve hours. All sun dials in Český Krumlov are situated on the south.

The most beautiful and most complicated sun dial is placed on the south facade of the Hotel Růže ( Horní No. 154). It is former Jesuit college that the builder Baltazar Maggi of Arogne built according the design of P. Alexander in 1586 - 1588. This unique sun dial fulfills its rich gnomonic function and is a real "solar astronomical clock" that is not found anywhere else in south Bohemia. According to experts, only the solar astronomical clocks in Prague, particularly in Klementinum, can compete with it.

Horní no. 154, Hotel Růže, sundial on southern facade of building, foto: V. Šimeček

This sun astronomical clock has a fivefold rectangular frame containing the dial of a half-astronomical clock. The dial consists of clock lines indicated with numbers dividing the quarter hours. A ringlet is set on a semi-axis and its shadow shows the number of quantities on the inner dial. This dial consists first of all of date lines (in the shape of hyperbola) with a straight line equator in the centre. The system of the date lines is delineated by the tropic of Cancer in the lower part and with tropic of Capricorn in the upper part. The zodiac parallel lines with schematic pictures of zodiac signs are yellow in colour. When the shadow comes to a particular parallel line, the Sun enters a corresponding sign. Another type of data lines indicates the time of sunrise (ORITUR) and sunset (OCCUMBIT), which rounds off to half an hour (Arabic numerals) and also length of the days between the time of sunrise and sunset (Roman numerals). During a renovation in 1898 the lines were probably completed behind the frame with exact dates of sunrise and sunset. The red clock lines and the red Arabic numerals 11 - 1 indicate a so-called Italian clock showing how much time is left until sunset. The blue clock lines, also called "Babylonian", and the blue numbers 1 - 5 count the hours until sunrise.

The astronomical clock is decorated with Latin legends that are a very important part of the numerals. A free translation of the upper legend is: "The yellow lines going through the centre indicate the length of the day and where the Sun is going. The red lines show how many hours of the day are left, the blue ones then how many of them are already gone". This legend also documents the pedagogical effort of the Jesuits-teachers to teach their students how to use this sun dial. The capitals contained in the legends also show the year 1662, thus proving that the sun dial made before 1600 was still improved and completed. This also proves the records about a renovation in 1602 and 1718. The second four-line legend written in the lower part is a kind of "memento mori" and its translation is: "In the hour you expect the least, death comes like a thief, be ready for its bag. He who is clever lives his life in prayer and fears the hour of its unexpected arrows". This legend is also a chronogram and each of its double lines shows the year 1662. The emblem of the Jesuits - IHS - is in the centre and two words - SOL and LUCET - connect with it. The entire inscription means "Jesus - Sun - shine". In comparison to other similar sun dials all details are very legible and for this reaon this sun dial is real gnomonic treasure.

Another sun dial decorates the Budějovická Gate, built in 1598 - 1602 by Domenico Cometta of Eckthurn. This is situated on the south side of the tower between the windows of the first and second floor facing the town. The dial with black Arabic numerals is painted as a band of parchment. "Polos" rises from the centre of the sun painted on a facade and its shadow points the time from 7 to 9 and from 2 to 4 o'clock. The sun dial does not contain other gnomonic details.

Latrán no.  104, Budějovická Gate, detail, sundial, foto: Ladislav Pouzar

Three sun dials are situated in the Český Krumlov castle. The simplest sun dial is on the south facade of the former castle brewery (Castle No. 65 - Brewery) on the first castle courtyard. It is only "polos" with rays pointing to Roman numerals. These numerals show the time. Only the numerals X, XI, XII are legible today. Everything is painted in black colour. The year 1690 is above the sun dial and in the sgraffito facade and indicates the time of its origin.

Castle no. 65 - Brewery, sun-dial on the facade, foto: Martin Švamberg

A more decorative sun dial is situated on the facade of the building Castle No. 59 - Dairy on the second castle courtyard. It is shaped like a rectangle demarcated with a plastic stucco frame. This is also the sun dial with the "polos", and Roman numerals are painted on the dial. This system of date lines is much easier than the system on the sun dial placed on the former Jesuit college. This sun dial still works but unfortunately it is washed off and sometimes illegible.

Castle no. 59 - Dairy, facade from II. courtyard of the Český Krumlov Castle

The sun dial with the "polos" is situated on the facade of the building Castle No. 177 - Renaissance House on the fifth castle courtyard. This sun dial is framed in passe-partout, and is similar to the sun dial on the hotel Růže but simpler. It is different with its painting placed in the left lower corner. Its motif is unfortunately unknown today, but it is supposed to be picture of Český Krumlov.

Castle no. 177 - Renaissance House, sundial on southern facade