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Summer Solstice Sun Inspired the Design of These World Monuments

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Today is the longest day of the year!

Today is the summer solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the official kick-off to summer. (This day also happens to coincide with a full "Strawberry Moon," the first time since 1948 that a June solstice and full moon have occurred at the same time.)

Historically, the summer solstice marked the start of calendars and harvest seasons and celebrated fertility and other new beginnings. And, as it turns out, the seasonal event was also an important source of inspiration for various historical structures around the world.

Here’s a look at how three world monuments were designed to highlight the sun’s position and its significance in their people’s lives. (And as a bonus, a modern one.)

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Most historians believe that Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England was built as an ancient burial site, but others believe that it may have been constructed as a calendar organization system, with its circular formation indicating an alignment with the solstice sun. It is said that an observer standing in the center of the circle would be able to view the sun rise above the general direction of Heel Stone. Today, thousands of people descend upon Stonehenge during the June solstice to celebrate.

Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, India

The Jantar Mantar is a series of giant sundials in India built by a Maharaja in the early 18th century. The one in New Delhi features 13 architectural astronomy instruments, including the Misra Yantra, which was specifically designed to determine the shortest and longest days of the year. On solstice day, the back wall, called the Karka Rasi Valaya, will have the sun’s rays shining on it for a considerable amount of time. A straight rod that acts as the gnomon will cast a shadow along the wall like a giant clock hand.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec West in the Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico features a back wall that aligns perfectly with the rising and setting sun during the winter and summer solstices. From the west corner of the wall, the summer solstice sun can be seen rising directly above the east corner. It is believed that the Ancestral Pueblans, who built structures between 1100 and 1300 AD, used these alignments to mark the agricultural calendar.

Sun Tunnels, Box Elder County, Utah

In 1976, artist Nancy Holt built the massive "sun tunnels" in a valley in the Great Basin Desert, west of the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah. Nine feet high by 18 feet long, the four 22-ton concrete pipes are aligned with the setting and rising suns of the summer and winter solstices, acting not only as a shelter from the sun, but also as a viewing platform.