It’s hard to stop taking pictures of sundials etched into the the sides of historic buildings, isn’t it? Sundials cement solar time to location, their lines enchanting us with erotic curves, their symbols speaking in code, their phallic gnomon casting slow-moving shadows across the canvas…
Did you know that you can find a rather interesting “Sundial City” in the Fruili Venezia Giulia region of Italy?
Aiello del Friuli is the place. There are 80 sundials in the little village of just over 2000 people. About 20 of them can be seen in the “Courtyard of the Sundials” central to the Museo della Civiltà Contadina del Friuli Imperiale. There’s even a sundial festival that takes place on the last Sunday of May featuring exhibitions, music and shows.
The sundials here didn’t all arise out of an ancient need to tell time. They reflect all the different kinds of sundials the good people of the earth have happened to cobble together. The city of Aiello has opened its walls to people who make sundials like the Sardinian city of Orgosolo has opened its walls to politically inspired mural artists.
For example, sundials designed by Gianni Ferrari and drawn by Renato Devetak in 2010 reflect typical Ottoman sundials:
their look is inspired by some sundials of the XVII-XVIII centuries, present in Cairo or on the walls of some Mosques in Istanbul, with the necessary changes to adapt them to the place and to the declination of the wall on which they were painted.
Since in that epoch, both in Turkey and in the Muslim countries, equal hours were already in force and clocks were already common on buildings and towers, the sundials were not used to read the time of the day, but were built only to give the instants of the beginning of the periods in which the prayers of the Islamic religion should be recited: instants that cannot be given by mechanical clocks.
Imagine, the changing time of a pre-dawn prayer could be found on a public sundial calibrated for any location. Sure, today there’s an app for that, but a sundial didn’t just tell the time—church bells could do that—but the sundial reflected a solar time that was portable.
So perhaps you take my advice and head over to Aiello and see the many different kinds of sundials the world has given us and then you see the peasant museum. What next? Well, clocks, of course.
Nearby Pesariis is called Il paese degli Orologi, the town of clocks. You can take an open-air tour of time.
But that’s not all! No, you can also walk a pilgrimage path. It’s not one of those 10-12th century pilgrimage paths; it was born in 2006. You’ll like the name: Heavenly Way. It starts at the Roman site of Aquileia and passes through Aiello on its way north.
From the A4 Venice to Trieste Autostrada exit at Palmanova. At the light go straight for 2km until you see the Outlet Village on your left. After 1 km you will have arrived at Aiello.
Where to Stay
We recommend you stay in the resort city of Grado in the Lagoon. Another option is to stay in the town of Aquileia, a very interesting town with Roman roots. The Hotel Patriarchi is right on the main road and serves excellent food in the restaurant.