What is the Tower of the Winds and why is it so important? The Vatican is one of the smallest nations in the entire world with only 110 acres of territory ensconced within the Italian city of Rome and boasting less than a thousand people.The Vatican is filled to the brim with historical buildings, monuments, and other cultural works of art.
From Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, to the Vatican Library or the Vatican Museums, the small nation is rich with culture. The one building most don’t know about however is the Tower of the Winds, which helped create the calendar used by nearly everyone around the globe today.
image credit: Joe Kiernan
The Tower of Winds was built between 1578 and 1580 by the Bolognese architect Ottaviano Mascherino who also built the Apostolic Palace. It is one of the most famous buildings in the Vatican and was originally erected to create an astronomical observatory to study the Gregorian Calendar Reform implemented by Gregory XIII.credit: (vatican).
The edifice has two storeys with a dividing mezzanine, and the rooms on each floor are decorated to varying degrees with long sequences of frescoes executed between 1580 and 1582 by the two Flemish artists Paul and Matthijs Bril. The brothers were inspired by episodes from the Old and New Testaments, ecclesiastical symbolism and real or imaginary landscape. credit: (vatican).
The tower consists of two stories both lavishly decorated with frescoes. The lower level is a windowless Meridian room containing a small pinhole on its South side that projects onto a marble meridian on the floor. On the Spring Equinox at noon, a ray of light is supposed to fall in a line on the floor, perfectly illuminating an astronomical constellation built into the marble. When it was first tested in 1582, the ray of light aligned on March 11th, instead of March 21st. This meant the Julian Calendar was 10 days off.