Commissioning public art is a risky business. Sometimes you get weird junk. Sometimes you get terrible statues. And sometimes you get a gorgeous, if slightly subversive, work of art. Such is the case with Porto, Portugal’s pagan-inspired sun wheel, which was installed in anticipation of a local Christian festival. 

For this, we have art and architecture collective Moradavaga to thank. Team members Manfred Eccli, from Italy, and Pedro Cavaco Leitão, from Portugal, have made a name for themselves by constructing surprising experiences and interactive installations in public spaces.  When they were contacted with a request to build something for a celebration of Porto’s patron saint, they knew they wanted to include a nod to the festival’s polytheistic roots. 

The Festa de São João do Porto, a celebration of the city’s patron saint, has been observed for more than six centuries. And while Saint John himself is honored with church services and processions, the festival is far better known for its raucous, pagan-style parties. Festivalgoers enjoy leaping over bonfires and bopping the objects of their affection with toy hammers, raw leeks, or cloves of garlic. (The bopping is not pagan, as far as anyone can tell; nobody’s really sure how it got started.) At the heart of the festival is a celebration of love and the sun. 

To encapsulate the festival’s unique, sun-worshiping flavor, Moradavaga erected the enormous sun wheel shown above. The wheel measures more than 26 feet across, and is spangled with hundreds of hanging golden plates. As the wheel turns and the sun moves through the sky, the dangling plates flash in the sunlight, dazzling through the day as the festival’s fireworks do by night. 

Header image from Vimeo // Moradavaga 

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