Equinox. Rooted in Latin meaning, equal “equi-” night “-nox”. On March 20th the entire world experiences equal amounts of night. This moment happens around 6:30 AM this Monday when the sun crosses the equator. Not to be confused with equilux, when night equals day, which is dependent on your longitude/latitude location. Both events occur within a few days of each other, and marks the beginning of my favorite time of year, the transition seasons. Spring is upon us, “vernus” as the Latin said.
I love living in a temperate climate. Yes, there are times that the cold winter winds make me want to move to Florida. Or when the boiling heat wave makes me understand why people never return from a temporary San Diego move. But the perfect fluffy-white-cumulus-clouds blue-sky day quickly forgives the extreme temperatures of summer and winter. As the Spring leaves the Southern Hemisphere, it is quickly approaching us up North. Our days will grow longer as the other half of the globe lose daylight. A time of year best described by Crayola as “Electric Lime.” The trees will by highlighted with chartreuse buds and flowers will unfold their petals. A time of year distinguished by new life. The start of a cycle that has happened consistency since the beginning of time.
Ancient cultures were keenly aware of this miracle. The change in the sun’s position is something worth celebrating and worshiping. So much so, that they positioned their grandest structures to shine brightest on the equinox. Architectural elements that seem puzzling to modern man until light of spring unlocks the mystery of a past society. Exposing an ancient understanding of celestial bodies and how the movements of the sun affected the world around them. Its easy to mistake archaeological ruins as primitive, but these remnants of brilliant civilizations exposes some of the most amazing pieces human ingenuity ever created. For example:
LOCATION: Salisbury, England, BUILDERS: late-Neolithic Becker People, CIRCA: 2,000 BCE
There is some speculation that the alignment on the solstices may be accidentally. But recent evidence shows that there are significant in the landscape ridges that align on the equinox with another wooden pile sight. I think modern man easily dismisses the intelligence of early humans and cast them as a primitive stone age society. People who figured out how to perfectly aligned openings in giant stones that allowed sun-rays to shine through on solstices and equinoxes. A point of reference to observe the sun’s position for critical days of the year.
2. AHU AKIVI
LOCATION: Easter Island, Chile, BUILDERS: Rapa Nui People, CIRCA: 1,500 CE
Most of the Moai Statues on Easter Island, AKA those giant volcanic stone heads, face inward into the island facing the community. However there are seven identical Moai that face outwards toward the sea. What are they all facing? The exact point of sunset on the vernal equinox, with the sun rising over their backs on the fall equinox. This is the only location on the island where these mysterious statues turn their backs on the inland. Interestingly enough, the island gets its name from the Dutch Explorer who happened upon it on Easter Day, April 5, 1722. Easter being another celebration with traditions rooted in pagan spring equinox celebrations.
3. CHICHEN ITZA
LOCATION: Yukatan Penisula, Mexico, BUILDERS: Mayan People, CIRCA: 1,000 CE
The Mayans are known for their precisely build square pyramids. It is even believed that they used an early form of concrete to form their structures. A limestone and ash mixture that closely matches modern day cement. Way more reasonable theory than cutting stone. I even had a materials engineer professor in college whose research was proving that the Egyptians likely used concrete technologies for their pyramids as well. The Mayans aligned the corners of the Chichen Itza temple so that the shadows at sunset would serpentine down the staircase perfectly on the spring equinox, and the beams of sun rays straight through the opposing openings in the top room. They are called ruins, but can a building that is still executing its designed purpose thousands of years later really be considered a ruin?
4. ANGKOR WAT
LOCATION: Sien Reap Providence, Cambodia, BUILDER: King Suryavarman II, CIRCA: 1,100 CE
It is easy to dismiss ancient temples as simply being monument to a civilization’s god(s). A place of worship for the Zeitgeist(s) of a particular region. But where do these idols come from? How do humans justify their existence? They look to the sky. They notice patterns. They infuse their observations of the sky with stories that become integral to the tenets of their beliefs. The layout of the temple city was predetermined by the position of the son on the solstice and equinox. At sunrise on the vernal equinox the sun is perfectly centered over the central tower of Ankor Wat. A sight that is squarely viewed from the top of a staircase on an opposite temple.
5. INTIHUATANA STONE
LOCATION: Machu Picchu, Peru, BUILDERS: Incan People, CIRCA: 1450 CE
The Incan rule was relatively short, only lasting around a century. But they certainly left their mark in the time before they were decimated by Spanish disease. The azimuth of this amazing civilization is the world renowned Machu Picchu. Yet another engineering feat that has proven mysterious to modern man. To high in the mountains to be a military outpost, more likely a place for worship and celestial observations. There are numerous spots with solstice and equinox significance. Staying on the topic of spring, the Intihuatana Stone was cut on an angle so that it to casts no shadow on both equinox. Its name coming from the Quechua language, “The Hitching Post of the Sun.” Located at a central high point not only among the hillside cluster of buildings, but also in the larger landscape of the of four mountain peaks, peaks that line up with the cardinal directions, the deities of the Incan Culture.
6. CLEMENTINE GNOMON
LOCATION: Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Rome, Italy, BUILDERS: Roman Catholic Church, CIRCA: 1700 CE
Pope Clement XI ordered Francesco Bianchini to design a a meridian line similar to one built earlier in San Petronio, Bologna. The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli was used for its stability in placing a precise pinhole for a beam of light to shine down on the church floor. Basically a super awesome sundial. The line starts on the vernal equinox, Easter being the start to the Church’s new year. The line ends squarely to the north where the sun beam shines on the autumnal equinox. The beam moves to its eastern most point on the summer solstice and its western most point on the winter solstice. At one point it even lined up with the zodiac signs set in the floor adjacent to the line. However since the zodiac moves ever so slightly over the centuries, the light no longer aligns with the modern day astrological observations. Stay tuned for a future post on my thoughts on our modern day society entering the Age of Aquarius, exited on the Age of Pisces. (Jesus Christ, cough cough, Fisher of Men)
7. COMCAST BUILDING
LOCATION: Philadephia, Pennsylvania, BUILDERS: Liberty Property Trust, CIRCA: 2008
My own spring equinox is upon me. I noticed today that the Comcast building is my personal equinox gnomon. What the hell is a gnomon? I just learned that word today, Greek for “the one who examines or knows” it means the part of a sundial that casts a shadow. Around this time every year, the setting sun reflects off the Comcast building and shines into my house. A sunset in the east when normally it shines in the west. Ancient people would have surely read deeply into this significance of this eastern sunset. Is cable television the god of our ages? Shining its light back onto the city of brotherly love. God I hope not.