Over the ages, people have figured out several innovative ways to track the changing seasons. At times, they relied upon the apparent motions of celestial bodies like the sun, the moon, and the stars. And at other times, they created monuments and buildings that could automatically notify them if the season was changing. To ponder over this, the ancient world’s architects had painstakingly designed temples, pyramids, and other important monuments across the world for this reason. These structures helped in tracking the sun’s movements, preparing for the harvest season, and subsisting through the harsh winter months. Some of them also revealed a lot of architectural hidden features than just meet the eye.
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June 21 marked the coming of the summer solstice, which marks the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. The solstice marks a change in the direction of the sun, which starts appearing further south as the days continue to get shorter. To commemorate the solstice, let’s look at these architectural marvels that were built around the position of the sun.
Let’s start with the one everyone knows: Jantar Mantar. This astronomical marvel is located in the heart of the capital city of New Delhi. Built in 1724 by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, Jantar Mantar is a gigantic sundial that was used to predict the time, measure the position of celestial bodies, and determine latitudes. It comprises 13 architectural astronomy instruments including:
Rama Yantra – used to measure the altitude of stars based on the Earth’s latitude and longitude.
Samrat Yantra – stands parallel to the Earth’s axis and is a large hour sundial that helps tell the time.
Jai Prakash Yantra – has two highly innovative hemispherical structures and is used for aligning the positions of stars.
Mishra Yantra – used to determine the shortest and the longest days of the year (the solstices).
You must have seen this monument in several Hollywood movies. Located in Salisbury Plain in England, Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage site. What’s striking about this monument is that it was built in several stages. The very first was an early henge monument (meaning a roughly circular or oval-shaped flat area enclosed by a boundary earthwork) built about 5,000 years ago. The unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period, around 2500 BC. In the early Bronze Age, approximately around 3300 BC, many burial mounds were built nearby. The monument comprises several large standing stones, many of which weigh over 22 metric tonnes. What baffles historians and archaeologists even today is the possibility of transporting and constructing the monument with such heavy stones at a time when technology and mechanisation were still a distant dream.
While many people may associate pyramids with Egypt, not enough credit goes to the ones in Mexico. Especially the stepped pyramid El Castillo (The Castle) of Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza is a Mayan city on the Yucatán Peninsula. Under the Mayan Itza tribe, several important monuments were constructed, the pyramids being one of them. It is best known for the dramatic light play of the spring equinox. During the Spring (March 20) and Autumn Equinox (September 22), a combination of light and shadows creates seven triangles on the side of the staircase. The setting sun casts shadows, giving an appearance of an enormous serpent crawling down the side of the temple. The pyramid is hence dedicated to Kukulcan (or Quetzalcoatl), the feathered serpent god worshipped by the Mayans.
More than 7,000 feet above sea level, in the Andes Mountains, lies a 15th-century Incan citadel – Machu Picchu. A symbol of the Inca Empire, it is made up of more than 150 buildings ranging from baths and houses to temples and sanctuaries. The archaeological site is surrounded by the giant sacred Intihuatana (meaning the place where the sun gets tied) stone. Interestingly, the stone is perfectly positioned so that each corner sits at the four cardinal points (north, south, east, and west), and an angle of about 13 degrees northward. Given its unique structure and design, it reserved a position in the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Around 3,200BC, Stone Age farmers built a huge mound of dirt and surrounded it with stones. Today, that mound is called Newgrange. The monument is 85m in diameter and 13m high, covering an area of about 1 acre. The true purpose of the monument is revealed each year during the winter solstice for a short span of five days. At dawn from December 19 to 23, a narrow beam of sunlight illuminates a small room inside the mound after passing through a 19m-long passage. But one needs to be real quick to witness this magic as the event lasts for only 17 minutes!
Which monument did you like the most? Do you know of any other such fascinating structures built around the sun’s movements? Do tell us in the comments below.
Books are Tanaya Goswami’s first love and cheesecakes come a close second. Talking about movies, music, calligraphy, politics, and Elon Musk will get you listed under the friends’ section of her diary. Ever since moving on from her job as an English lecturer, she spends her time at BYJU’S crafting stories filled with emotion and sprinkled with sarcasm. Outside of work, she’s either learning something new (French, most recently!) or is curled up with a book and a cup of coffee. She firmly believes that discovering what you don’t know is the key to knowledge and is constantly working towards improving herself. Drop in a line at [email protected] if you liked her stories, have something nice to say, or if you have compelling ideas to share!
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