The Armillary Sphere

Visitors to Troup Square, named after Georgia Governor and United States Senator George Troup, are often surprised to find the armillary sphere - and even more surprised to find the miniature, metal tortoises holding it up.

Armillary spheres were astronomical instruments dating back to the Ancient Greeks and Chinese and were used to track celestial orbits. Rendered obsolete by the invention of the telescope, this centerpiece is no time-warm relic.

Often misattributed to the Victorian era, this particular sphere was designed in 1968. It’s a strange yet spectacular sight that, no doubt, adds character to this infamously small square.

What is an Armillary Sphere?

An armillary sphere is a model of objects in the sky. There’s a sphere in the center, either representing Earth or the sun, and it’s surrounded by rings that represent celestial longitude, latitude, and other astronomically important features.

If Earth is at the center, it’s considered Ptolemaic, and if the sun is at the center, it’s known as Copernican.

Astronomers would use the armillary sphere to show celestial movement and track the occurrence of equinoxes and solstices. It is not to be confused with the celestial globe, which is a smooth sphere used to chart constellations.

The armillary sphere was first developed during the 4th century BCE by ancient Chinese astronomers Shi Shen and Gan De and later used by the ancient Greeks in the 3rd century BCE. They were followed by the Islamic world and Medieval Europe.

Unfortunately for these creators, the armillary sphere fell out of fashion after the invention of the telescope in the seventeenth century. They can still be purchased today, though they are often costly or antiquated. They are most famous for their place on the Portuguese flag.

Controversies Over Savannah’s Armillary Sphere

Surprisingly, the armillary sphere of Troup Square has faced significant controversy.

Some have argued that the monument is outdated while others have stated it’s out of place. Most, however, ask why the sphere exists in this square at all.

As one of the most modern sculptures in all of the 22 squares of Savannah, and in such a history-rich city, people are confused about the placement of the armillary sphere. What does it have to do with George Troup?

In short, it doesn’t have anything to do with him. But that might be the point.

Speculation states that because Troup was pro-slavery and anti-Native American, this neutral and inoffensive monument was chosen in lieu of a statue of Troup himself. And with recent events surrounding the destruction and vandalism of multiple monuments, it might have been the right call.

It was damaged in 2004 when a drunk driver hit it with their car. Luckily, it was repaired to its original glory, unlike the car. Being a public display has its perks.

It could also have been that the sphere was added for decorative value. Designers thought that the armillary sphere accommodated or emphasized the nearby landscaping, making it an appropriate addition.

The Armillary Sphere Today

Although its functionality has diminished, it still pleases the eye.

If you’re into fantasy novels, maybe you’ve read the Ineritas series by Rick Garman. If so, the first book, The Beginning of Sorrows, features an armillary sphere on the cover.

Or maybe you recognize it from your friend’s engagement photos. Big space fans often seek out the astronomical monument for their pictures.

Or maybe you forgot your watch and need to know what time it is so you can meet your friend for lunch at The Collins Quarter. Well, you’re in luck! Savannah’s armillary sphere is also a sundial! Just locate the lance passing through the center of the sphere, past the gold zodiac signs resting on the many rings.

Visiting the Armillary Sphere

Stop by today to enjoy this wondrous structure. The armillary sphere is located at Troup Square on Habersham Street and East Macon Street. Visitors will also find the Myers Drinking Fountain, which was famously lowered to accommodate pets. Likewise, you will notice the Unitarian Universalist Church, the birthplace of the Christmas classic, Jingle Bells.

Where is the Lucas Theatre?

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