La città del sole - temple

Grandmaster

Tell on, I pray you! Tell on! I am dying to hear more.

Captain

The temple is built in the form of a circle, it is not girt with walls, but stands upon thick columns, beautifully grouped. A very large dome, built with great care in the centre or pole, contains another small vault as it were rising out of it, and in this is a spiracle, which is right over the altar. There is but one altar in the middle of the temple, and this is hedged round by columns. The temple itself is on a space of more than three hundred and fifty paces. Without it, arches measuring about eight paces extend from the heads of the columns outwards, whence other columns rise about three paces from the thick, strong and erect wall. Between these and the former columns there are galleries for walking, with beautiful pavements, and in the recess of the wall, which is adorned with numerous large doors, there are immovable seats, placed as it were between the inside columns, supporting the temple. Portable chairs are not wanting, many and well adorned. Nothing is seen over the altar but a large globe, upon which the heavenly bodies are painted, and another globe upon which there is a representation of the earth. Furthermore, in the vault of the dome there can be discerned representations of all the stars of heaven from the first to the sixth magnitude, with their proper names and power to influence terrestrial things marked in three little verses for each. There are the poles and greater and lesser circles according to the right latitude of the place, but these are not perfect because there is no wall below. They seem, too, to be made in their relation to the globes on the altar. The pavement of the temple is bright with precious stones. Its seven golden lamps hang always burning, and these bear the names of the seven planets.

Background

The 16th and 17th centuries were a time of geographical and intellectual voyages of exploration and discovery. The Crusaders had ventured east, but Christopher Columbus turned to the west and landed on the Venezuelan coast of South America in 1498. From then on people were eager to hear tales of life in the New World.

Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) was Italian philosopher and writer. He entered the Dominican order at the age of 15. Campanella held radical views and regularly came up against the authorities, but never left the church.

He wrote his utopia, La città del sole (The City of the Sun) while serving a prison sentence for his radical religious and political views. He had been condemned to life imprisonment for his part in a plot to overthrow oppressive Spanish rule in Calabria. Campenella was also condemned by the Church for his views on astronomy, which supported Copernicus' theory that the earth is not the centre of the universe.

La città del sole describes imaginary conversations between a Grandmaster of the Knights Hospitallers (a religious military order) and his guest, a sea captain from Genoa. The sea captain describes the City of the Sun as a place where life is shaped by science and religion and all property is communal.

The City of the Sun is governed by men led by reason. Every man's work contributes to the good of the community. Wealth and poverty do not exist because no one is allowed more than is needed.

Campanella's Captain explains to the Grandmaster that the Temple is set at the heart of the City of the Sun, which is built on a high hill fortified by a series of seven circular ramparts. These rings or huge circles are, he says, 'named from the seven planets, and the way from one to the other of these is by four streets and through four gates, that look towards the four points of the compass. Futhermore, it is so built that if the first cirle were stormed, it would of necessity entail a double amount of energy to storm the second' and so on.

All of human knowledge is written on the walls and students are encouraged to learn by reading from them as they walk around the temple. Campanella believed physical security (walls) to be connected with social and intellectual security, which he felt to be a true understanding of the natural world. In the text on the walls religion, science and politics come together.

Taken from: Ideal Commonwealths
Author / Creator: Tommaso Campanella (translated and edited by Henry Morley)
Publisher: George Routledge and Sons
Date: 1885
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 12204.gg.1/23