Tag Archives: Atlas Obscura – Latest Places

Plana’s Perpetual Calendar in Turin, Italy

Plana's Perpetual Calendar.

By the time world-famous Italian astronomer and mathematician Giovanni Antonio Amedeo Plana published his book theorizing the motions of the Moon on 1832, he had already begun constructing his Perpetual Calendar: an amazing mechanical device that allows anyone to easily discover details about any date between years 1 and 4000.

Plana’s Perpetual Calendar is discreetly hanging on the sacristy of the small Chapel of Merchants and Bankers in Turin, Italy. It operates by turning a wooden handle below the calendar’s adorned golden frame.

Inside, vintage machinery cranks into motion: nine carefully inscribed cylinders begin to roll simultaneously via gears and toothed chains. Tiny windows within the elaborate display transmit information about the phases of the Moon, solar cycles, tides, moveable Catholic holidays (such as Easter or Carnival), and also the day of the week for any given date across 40 centuries. It accounts for the shift from the Julian to Gregorian calendar, leap years, and more. 


The Ghost of a Flea in London, England

Detail of painting.

In the Tate Britain gallery hangs a small painting by the 18th-century artist William Blake, who claimed he was inspired to create this phantasmagoric gothic masterpiece after encountering a terrifying entity in a vision, which introduced itself as “The Ghost of a Flea.”

Blake claimed he was “visited” by this entity, which posed for him as he sketched it. He was able to “communicate” with the monstrous being, who revealed that all fleas were inhabited by the souls of men who were “by nature bloodthirsty to excess.”

It is a subject of scholarly debate whether Blake’s gothic visions were simply creative exercises of imagination whereby he was able to summon forth a sort of Jungian archetype to be captured artistically, or whether these were in fact hallucinations borne of a mental illness. Others have claimed less convincingly that the artist used psychedelic drugs or that the hallucinations were, in fact, real religious visions. Blake may have also been inspired after seeing images of fleas from the book Microphagia by the early English scientist Robert Hooke, who produced illustrations based on his pioneering documentation of organisms as seen through microscopes. 


Prisoner Art of Guaita Tower in Città di San Marino, San Marino

Recently revealed prisoner art found under layers of whitewash

Rocca Guaita is one of three castle peaks in the city of San Marino, capital of the tiny republic of the same name. Entirely encircled by Italy, this little country historically protected itself from invasion, siege and attack by retreating inside these walls, which include an old prison with some 19th century “outsider art.”

Some of the castle structures at Guaita date as far back as the 10th and 11th centuries, but the prison isn’t quite that old. The tower is open to visitors, and here you can see recently discovered prisoner graffiti that had been hidden under layers and layers of whitewash for the past 200 or more years.