The first exemplar of a string meridian that we have a full description of was made in 1713 in the Observatory of the Tower of Luxembourg in Paris by Joseph-Nicolas Delisle (1688-1768) (op.cit.). However, in the 1703 inventory of the instruments in the Marsili Observatory, we find written, in Manfredi’s hand, Meridianae filares quattuor pro nunc, an entry which suggests that this type of use of the most common meridian line was already widespread before Delisle’s written work.
It was a true astronomical instrument, unlike the apparent and mean solar time meridian, whose purpose was often purely ornamental.
Even if they provided greater accuracy in computing the transit times of celestial objects across the meridian, the mural instruments were, in fact, not always able to guarantee the planarity of the graduated limb. It was therefore preferable, at least in the case of the Sun, to calculate the moment of its transit across the meridian with a different instrument whose main part consisted of a simple string stretched between two fixtures, which, by its very nature, could not deviate from a straight line. Once the string was perfectly oriented along the meridian, the transit time of the Sun was no longer affected by the different elevations on the horizon it has in the various seasons of the year. The moment of transit could likewise be computed with an accuracy of about half a second of time, accurate enough if compared to the operative regularity of the clocks of the period.
The differences between the transit times of the Sun measured with the meridian line and those measured with the telescopes of mural instruments made it possible therefore to calibrate the non planarity of their limbs and correct the transit times computed for the other stars.
Things went on like this until the introduction of transit instruments, but the string meridian remained for the whole of the XVIIIth century the standard instrument for the determination of noon, both for its simplicity and its stability.
It was therefore indispensable for Manfredi to set up a room, inside the Specola, that would consent observation of the meridian transit of celestial objects and allow the building of a string meridian that was accurate enough.
"Likewise a shutter with its fitting for maneuvering it was made and fitted with the aim of covering and uncovering the hole that lets in the Sun on the meridian in the said Room of the Semicircle and two notches were made in the two iron fixtures placed at the two ends of the said meridian through which the string marking the arrival and exit of the sunlight is stretched in the plane of the meridian." (Manfredi in Reg. Sp. Ist. Scienze Bo., Vol I, dated December 1726).There are many notes preserved in the Archives of the Department of Astronomy regarding both its use and restructuring, which occured in 1741 with a view to the imminent arrival of the English instruments by Sisson [files 14, 17, 19, and 35].
"Apparent solar time meridian built in the floor of the apposite Room (Meridian) with brass foil edged round by 2 strips of marble, with Zodiac signs around in brass, encased in marble squares. Mean time meridian of brass foil built round the afore-mentioned. A brass lamp fastened to the wall of the room, in which in silver plate the hole is made that serves as gnomon for the said meridians. At the ends of the first meridian along the lateral walls on the floor there are two specially designed brass pieces which serve as support for the string, that is stretched above the same, in order to determine the arrival and exit of the solar image, and estimate the mean time. These supports for the string can be corrected as appropriate.The lamp was designed to allow the fall of a plumb line from the opening through which the sunlight enters and strikes the string of the meridian. The string could be adjusted to just touch the plumb-line. The position of the string on the support was governed by the V-shape and two small weights attached to the ends, "two brass balls", served "to stretch the string".
A small board with stretched paper which is placed under the string where the solar image is projected."
The restoration work carried out in 1979 by the architects Mauro Monesi and Luigi Suffritti could not be complete. The opening of the cover was not restored but its original existence was underlined by leaving a large 89 cm hole which according to the documents was the size of the original opening.
The meridian wall was rebuilt slightly longer than the 1741 version - which was about 293 cm vs x 31 cm thick - to carry the restored Lusverg semicircle [file 16].
In 1990, in order to verify whether there were still traces of the old wooden floor - used by Manfredi to set up some of the instruments and which we know was six feet, one and a half inches (about 264 cm) from the rotational centre of the semicircle’s telescope - a cut was made in the floor, under the window door that opens onto the terrace to the south-west, but no sign of any preexisting floors was found.
E. Baiada, A. Braccesi (1983) p. 89 e 11.
J.N. Delisle (1713) p. 5.
B.M. Oliver (1972) p. 20.