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The Ancient Beijing Observatory

Elegant and Precise Apparatuses and DecicesLocated off the Chang'an Avenue near the Beijing Railway Station, the Ancient Beijing Observatory was first built in 1442 during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). It is one of the oldest observatories in the world. The observatory was renovated in the early 1980s and reopened to the public in April 1983. After renovation Ancient Beijing Observatory is very much as it was when it served the imperial court.

Ancient Beijing Observatory

In 1227, when the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127) was overthrown, the astronomical instruments in the capital at Bianliang (today's Kaifeng, Henan Province) were moved to Beijing (then called Zhongdu, meaning Central Capital) by the Jin rulers and installed in the Jin Chief Astronomer's Observatory. When the Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368) succeeded the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234) and established its capital in Beijing, it built a new observatory just north of the site of the present-day structure in 1279. The instruments designed by Wang Xun and Guo Shoujin and built by Nepalese craftsman Arniko served virtually unchanged as the basis of astronomical work for the last 500 years.

In 1368 when the first Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang moved the capital to Nanjing, these astronomical instruments were brought to the city. Yongle, the third Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, took power in 1403 and moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1420. He did not dare to move these instruments in Ancient Beijing Observatory because the tomb of the first Ming Emperor was in Nanjing. Instead he sent some artisans to the city in 1437 to make wooden copies of the Song armillary sphere and the Yuan guibiao (a type of sundial) and abridged armilla (a symplified form of the armillary sphere). A new set of bronze instruments was then cast in Beijing modelled after these wooden copies.

At the same time, a new observatory was constructed on the site of the water tower to the southeast of the old capital. It was during that period that the Ancient Beijing Observatory took on its present scale and layout and was equipped with such traditional instruments as the armillary sphere, the abridged armilla, and the celestial globe on the observatory platform, as well as the guibiao and the water clock below the platform. one of Elegant and Precise Apparatuses and Devices

History of Ancient Beijing Observatory

During the period from 1662 to 1722, Ferdinand Verbient, a Belgian missionary, was put in charge of introducing European astronomical measurements and instrumentation in the Imperial Astronomical Bureau. Between 1669 and 1673, he supervised the construction of a celestial globe, an equatorial theodolite, a zodiac theodolite, an altazimuth, a quadrant, and an ancient sextant. Later another altazimuth and an armilla were built in 1715 and 1744 respectively in Ancient Beijing Observatory .

In 1900, when the Allied Forces of Eight Powers invaded Beijing, everything was looted at the observatory. The French troops shipped the equatorial armilla, the ecliptic armilla, the azimuth theodolite, the quadrant and the abridged armilla to the French Embassy to China in Beijing. Two years later in 1902, under the pressure from public opinion, these astronomical instruments were returned to China. The Ming made armillary sphere, and Qing made armillary sphere, and Qing made celestial globe, armilla, azimuth theodolite, and the sextant were taken away by the Germans to Berlin. It was not until 1921 that these instruments in Ancient Beijing Observatory were sent back to Beijing after World War I in compliance with the Versailles Peace Treaty.

After September 18, 1931 when the Japanese militarists launched a large-scale invasion to North China Plain, Chinese scientists shipped some of the instruments to Nanjing in 1932 for the sake of the cultural relics. Today they are displayed at Purple Hills Observatory and Nanjing Museum respectively.

Nowadays, on the platform of the Ancient Beijing Observatory as the visitor climbs it form right to left are displayed an armilla, a quadrant, a celestial globe, an ecliptic armilla, an altazimuth, an azimuth theodolite, a sextant and an equatorial armilla. The brick terraced observatory consists of a 17-metre high platfrom. The top of the platform is 23.9 metres from west to east and 20.4 metres form south to north.


Ancient Beijing Observatory Tour

With such a long history, Ancient Beijing Observatory gains a high reputation among foreign countries. Ancient Beijing Observatory Tour is very popular among foreign tourists. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair had already visited here.