Sundials – An Integral Part of Armenian Architecture

The sundial is an ancient scientific instrument, representing the first application of man’s knowledge of the movement of celestial bodies. In modern Armenia, more than several thousand sundials have been preserved, the oldest of which have a history of three millennia.

The appearance of sundials is associated with the time when man realized the relationship between the length and position of the solar shadow from various objects, the position of the Sun in the sky. These objects were usually obelisks and protruding stones. Such architectural structures served not only as a cult of sun worship, but also determined the time.

In 301 AD, after Armenia adopted Christianity, many sundials, along with pagan temples, were destroyed. However, in medieval Armenia, the use of sundials was resumed, they began to be placed on the southern parts of monasteries.

Examples of these can be found in Zvartnots, Goshavank, Makaravank, Arichavank, Agartsin, Tanaat, Airivank, Mshkavank, and others.

The Matenadaran Museum of Ancient Manuscripts has preserved many testimonies and descriptions of ancient sundials. According to some of them, shadow clocks were widely used in Armenia. Their only disadvantage was that they did not ‘work’ at night or in non-sunny weather.

A distinctive feature of sundials were the designations of units of time. If in other countries they were designated by simple numbers, then on Armenian clocks these were letters of the Armenian alphabet.

Armenian archaeologist Arutyun Martirosyan, who studied a number of prehistoric sciences, wrote: “If Babylon was the birthplace of water clocks, Egypt – of sand clocks, then Armenia became the birthplace of sundials”.

Today, sundials are rarely used to determine the time of day. Nevertheless, they have become an integral part of Armenian architecture. They continue to be depicted on the walls of churches, monasteries, khachkars. Sundials can often be found on doors as well. A bright example is the door of Matenadaran. Sundials symbolize the endless flow of life.

Vigen Avetisyan

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