Monumento Reloj Solar (The Sundial Monument), Paraguay

The Sundial Monument near the city of San Ignacio

photography by: Omri Westmark

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During the 17th and 18th centuries, Paraguay (along with Argentina and Brazil), was sprinkled with tens of religious colonies known as Jesuit Missions or Indian Reductions, where Jesuit missioners from Europe and thousands of Guaraní natives lived side by side. Nestled in the outskirts of San Ignacio, Monumento Reloj Solar is an off-road cluster of sculptures that commemorates the two opposing sides among the Guaranís, the pro- and anti-European colonization.

Following the Spanish conquest and colonization of Paraguay, the landlocked territory experienced an incessant influx of Jesuit missioners from Europe, who ventured out to the faraway land with the intent of converting as many natives as possible to Catholicism.


To achieve that, between the 17th and 18th centuries, the priests established a series of towns throughout the region, where the local Guaranís were introduced to the Christian faith as well as European culture and customs. In their heyday, during the early 1730’s, the Jesuit villages, better known as Reductions, were home to more than 140,000 people, stretching across Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.


Perhaps one of the most prominent Jesuit missioners, Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz was the founder of several Reductions throughout Argentina and Paraguay. During his tumultuous life as an ardent evangelizer, Roque had managed to cultivate good relations with many indigenous communities, but also antagonizing others who considered him as a threat to their centuries-old traditions.


In 1609, with the help of a native chief, Arapysandú, who donated his lands, Roque along with two other priests founded Paraguay’s main reduction at that time, San Ignacio Guazú, the precursor of modern-day San Ignacio city. In the years that followed, Roque established a couple of Jesuit Missions in Paraguay and Argentina before arriving at the area of ​​​​Iyuí in Brazil. As Roque was doing what he knew best – spreading his religious beliefs, he was assassinated together with of his peers by a local Guaraní chief named Nheçu, ending his massive lifetime project.


For his sacrifice, Roque was canonized by Pope John Paul II, becoming a venerated saint nationwide. Unsurprisingly then, the late priest is vastly commemorated around the country and beyond in all sorts of way, including monuments, street names and even a city which changed its name in his honor.


Among the least known and quirkiest monuments which pay a tribute to Roque’s life and death is a set of sculpted rocks, perching unassumingly atop a mound, adjacent to San Ignacio. The Sundial Monument (Monumento Reloj Solar) comprises of two free-standing walls, one of which is installed with, you guessed it right, a sundial. The pair of walls is accompanied by two head-shaped stones, depicting the two aforementioned Guaraní tribal leaders, Arapysandú and Nheçu. Whereas Arapysandú is facing the sunset, Nheçu gazes at the sunrise, representing the complex and often politically sensitive aspects of Roque’s interaction with Paraguay’s indigenous population.


The monument is aptly located near the Guaraní-Jesuit Museum, a massive new complex that houses exhibition halls, a library, a cafeteria and perhaps most strikingly, 50 large sculptures of Christian figures strewn around an artificial lake.