Solarium / Horologium Augusti
at the University of Oregon, Eugene

Project Development: Winter 2005

Project Development: Spring and Summer 2007

The scholarship behind the project

Plans for 2006-7: To construct a temporary, yet full-scale model on Memorial Quad. The model should be

20 May 2007. Construction of the temporary, but full scale obelisk in now underway. After much discussion it was determined that the temporary structure needed the substantial foundation, hence the decision to provide such a concrete and rebar base for the mast and wooden obelisk.


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An award from the Williams Fund has allowed a number of scholars in Physics, History and Classics to develop a set of courses dealing with the process of culture and scientific discovery. A by-product of those courses has been the current project to replicate one of the most important monuments in the history of astronomy, archaeology, classics, history and architecture, namely the solarium / horologium of Augustus. The remains of this monument may be found in Rome today. Our test site is in McKenzie Plaza.

I. Concept: connecting science and art
II. Historical and Scientific Background
III. Working on the project
IV. Similar projects elsewhere

V. Collaborators

  1. The current project is rooted in several conceptions.
    1. There is very little art on the UO campus that references the activities of scholars. In replicating the solarium Augusti , we draw attention to the creative work of astronomers and physicists, to historians and literary scholars, to classicists and archaeologists.
    2. After working through the parameters, we would like to reconstruct the Augustan horologium / solarium in McKenzie Plaza. That means setting up a 30 foot green granite obelisk on the south side of McKenzie Plaza, removing the current pavers and replacing them with a combination of tiles, stonework and metal that will mark the hours and the seasons. Between the obelisk and the computing center, one could have a small reflecting pond that would mirror the obelisk. The plaza could be completed with planters, benches, etc.
    3. This is truly a student project. Sandra Penny, an undergraduate in Physics has worked out the mathematics of the system with Professor Robert Zimmerman. Students from many departments helped to paint in the grid. A number of FIG / Connections leaders have helped to monitor and verify the results.
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  2. Historical and Scientific Background. In 45 BC Julius Caesar implemented a new calendar, one that was based on the a calculation of the solar year at 365.25 days. As most calendars until this time had been based on combinations of lunar cycles, combinations which did not accommodate easily the solar and seasonal cycle, this reform was a major innovation.
    1. His successor, Augustus Caesar, sponsored the construction of the solarium / horologium (device for measuring hours) in Rome. It was erected in Rome in 10 BC (we know this from the dedicatory inscription that survives) between the Tiber and the present Via del Corso. Here is an illustration of the original design. At the end of the ancient world, the layout was built over and the obelisk toppled.
    2. In the early Renaissance the Augustan obelisk (the gnomon of the solarium) was rediscovered and erected again in the Piazza Monte Citorio (Rome and in front of the Italian parliament). This obelisk itself is some 90 feet high. Twenty years ago, a German archaeologist, Edmund Boucher, discovered fragments of the original plan under apartment buildings off the Via del Corso. Here is an illustration of what Buchner found of the original ground plan. It has now been reconstructed:
      1. Here is the layout of the "face" of the horologium, and
      2. detail of the meridian line that displays the names of the months (in Greek on the left, and in Latin on the right), and also one showing the icons relating to other astronomical phenomena.
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  3. Working on the project...
    1. 21 September, 2004. Autumnal equinox. This is a critical day for verifying the calculations and layout of the project.
      1. From left to right, Robert Zimmerman (physics); Cooper, Sandra Penny (who did the calculations); FIG leaders Matt Stewart, Nick Hall, unknown, Maggie Rayfield
      2. Sandra Penny and Robert Zimmerman contemplating the measurements.
      3. Solar Noon: 13:00 Pacific Daylight Time.
    2. 25 October, 2004. Rainy weather frustrated our plans to update the data on 21 October. We painted in the line of the equinox in yellow and added the markers for the hours.
    3. 21 November, 2004. Verification of predictions and adding new data. We marked the entries for first each month and added the curve showing layout for 21 November and 21 January. Collaborators: Jim Tice, Virginia Cartwright, Nicols and Zimmerman .
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  4. Other examples: We would not be the only institution of higher learning to have a "sundial", but our concept is different from these two designs because it pays homage to a very real and very important monument in the history of culture and of science. Here are two alternative designs:
    1. from the University of Illinois (this gnomon is over 40feet tall), and
    2. from the University of Colorado.
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  5. Collaborators:
    1. Physics: Professors Greg Bothun, Robert Zimmerman; students: Sandra Penny
    2. History: John Nicols
    3. Architecture: Stephen Duff, Jim Tice
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Notes from John Nicols, professor of history,