The Artistry of Time: A Tour of Intriguing Sundials in Paris

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The Artistry of Time: A Tour of Intriguing Sundials in Paris
If we look back at Paris’s history, there are innumerable examples of science and technology coalescing with art and aesthetics, exemplified by gems such as Foucault’s Pendulum, Blaise Pascal’s statue at Tour Saint Jacques and even the Eiffel Tower itself. In case you didn’t know, the tower, which is today equated with love and romance, was once used to conduct meteorological and astronomical observations and even used as radio antenna and optical telegraph. (Radio and digital television signals are still broadcast from the tower.) One often overlooked aspect of the Parisian cityscape that delightfully evokes how art and science inhabit the same cultural space? The city’s collection of sundials. These intricate timepieces have been a part of Parisian façades for centuries, each one telling a unique story about art, architecture and astronomy. I would like to share a few of these remarkable sundials in Paris, and bring you some snippets of their history. Gnomon de Église Saint-Sulpice Right in the heart of eclectic Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Saint-Sulpice Church is hard to miss. With a beautiful square in front, the church combines architectural influences from Italy and France, adorned with paintings by imminent artists such as Eugène Delacroix (1861), who painted murals in the Chapel of the Holy Angels. Gnomon de Eglise Saint-Sulpice. Photo credit: Pronoti Baglary If you observe the floor of the church, you will notice that a meridian line- following a north-south axis- splits the transept. (This is the intersection between the nave and the choir, giving it the shape of a cross in traditional Romanesque and Gothic architecture.) Interestingly, astronomical devices such as these are not uncommon in French churches, standing testimony to an era in history when churches served both as spaces of religion and science. Gnomon de Eglise Saint Sulpice. Photo credit: Pronoti Baglary The sundial here was built under directions of Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, a parish priest between 1714 to 1748. It’s incredible due to its intricacy and size. Composed of an obelisk with a brass ruler inserted in the middle, the sundial continues onto the floor, representing the meridian line of Paris.

Lead photo credit : Saint-Eustache Church. Photo credit: Pronoti Baglary

More in Gnomon de Église Saint Sulpice, Le canon méridien, lise St. Eustache, luxor, Luxor obelisk at Place de la Concorde, Palais Royal, place de la concorde, sundials

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Pronoti is a freelance writer and photographer based in Paris. When she is not writing or learning French, she spends her time exploring Parisian oddities and delights. A sociologist by training, she is interested in everything related to society and culture including food, language and architecture. She shares photographs and tid-bits about her life in France on her Instagram @paris_shuffle and on her blog The Shuffle.


  • Judith Ellis
    2023-04-07 12:45:42
    Judith Ellis
    I loved this article! As many times as I have been inside the Church I never made note of the column/ sundial! How lovely to be able to search Paris for sundials! Each time I go to Paris I choose something new to explore…the sundials will be my next focus…thank you so much ! Have you ever visited the charming hotel adjacent to the Church ( Hôtel Récaumier )? It is lovely and I’m sure they would be charmed to have you as their guest! My best wishes, Judith