In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union


Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible immovable
Quito Observatory, Ecuador

Format: IAU - Outstanding Astronomical Heritage Description

Description

Geographical position 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
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Quito Observatory - Observatorio Astronómico de Quito (OAQ),
La Alameda Park, Quito, Ecuador

 

Location 
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Lat. 0° 12′ 54″ S, long. 78° 30′ 09″ W, elevation 2,823m above mean sea level.

 

IAU observatory code 
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781

 

Description of (scientific/cultural/natural) heritage 
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Quito Observatory is one of the oldest observatories in South America.
 

Quito Observatory (1873) (Peter Bender)

Fig. 1a. Quito Observatory (1873) (Peter Bender)



Quito Observatory (1873) (Peter Bender)

Fig. 1b. Quito Observatory (1873) (Peter Bender)

 

Architecture

The architecture of observatories around 1800 is characterized by observatories in the shape of a greek cross with a central dome. Prominent examples of cross shaped observatories are the buildings in Berlin (1835) and in Bonn (1844), both built by the famous architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781--1841).
Bonn Observatory has an impressive architecture with a central dome and six smaller cylindrical "domes" (cylindrical shape). Here Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander (1799--1875), director since 1836, compiled there with the 7,7cm comet seeker (focal length 65cm) his famous Bonner Durchmusterung (1863) (cf. Schmidt 1990).

Bonn Observatory (1844) (Gudrun Wolfschmidt)

Fig. 2a. Bonn Observatory (1844) (Gudrun Wolfschmidt)

 

Bonn Observatory (1844) (Gudrun Wolfschmidt)

Fig. 2b. Bonn Observatory (1844) (Gudrun Wolfschmidt)


Inspired by Bonn and with the help of the German Father Juan Bautista Menten, the Observatorio Astronomico, Quito, Ecuador, erected in 1873, is the oldest observatory in South America.

It was built in Victorian style; it is now used as an Astronomical Museum. The building of the observatory -- the three turreted victorian style complex -- was the result of a dream and decision that was made by the then President of Ecuador, Dr Gabriel Garcia Moreno. The buildings are beautifully designed and constructed with arched doorways and big arched windows.
 

Architectural rendering of Observatorio Astronómi

Fig. 3. Architectural rendering of Observatorio Astronómico de Quito (Ludwig Dressel, 1873), (Wikipedia)

 



Dr Moreno’s dreams were realized by the construction of the Astronomic Observatory Museum and, together with German astronomer, J.B. Menten, the President, started the astronomical history and legacy of Ecuador. The observatory itself was the brainchild of then President Gabriel Garcia Moreno and visiting German scientist Father Juan Bautista Menten, who modeled the floor plan after Bonn Observatory in Germany.

The old instruments and telescopes stand as testimony of a rich exploration heritage and the curiosity of a nation. The rich collection of instruments and telescopes form an important cultural heritage with the building, restored in 2009. Very noteworthy is the large equatorial 9’’ refractor by G. & S. Merz in Munich (1874). Particularly difficult and unusual was the mount for the extremely low pole height of Quito of only 14 arc minutes. The other original equipment consisted both of instruments for astrometry and modern astrophysics: a spectrometer from Merz for the refractor, a Zöllner photometer from Ausfeld in Gotha, a meridian circle and a universal instrument by Pistor & Martins in Berlin, a theodolite from Ertel in Munich, a comet finder from Merz, smaller telescopes from Paris, plus sextants, precision clocks, chronometers and meteorological and magnetic instruments. Later, other instruments were purchased, a 10cm passage instrument by Carl Bamberg in Berlin, a meridian circle of Repsold & Sons in Hamburg (1892) and a Bosch Omori seismograph by J.A. Bosch in Strasbourg with an attenuation from F. Omori (1910).

 

History 
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During the presidency of Dr. Gabriel García Moreno (1821--1875) was the origin of the Observatorio Astronómico de Quito (OAQ) in Ecuador. The German Jesuit priest Juan Bautista Menten (1838--1900) was born in Krefeld, studied at the Jesuitenkollegien monastery Gorheim and Friedrichsburg near Münster and then natural sciences at the University of Bonn. After working for Angelo Secchi (1818--1878) in Rome, he was director of the Bombay Observatory, India, until he came to Ecuador in 1870 and became founding dean of the Escuela Politécnica Nacional, founded in 1869.

Inspired by the architecture of the Bonn Observatory, Menten, director until 1883, designed this Victorian-style oldest observatory in South America (1873). It is a magnificent building with large arches above the windows and doors and with a large central tower with cylindrical dome (7-m-diameter) and four smaller towers, a meridian hall (left of the entrance) and a room for observation in the 1st vertical (right); the two back wings served as an apartment, in between was the library. Today, the building is used as an astronomical museum.

24-cm-equatorial refractor, G. & S. Merz of Mu24-cm-equatorial refractor, G. & S. Merz of Mu

Fig. 4a,b. 24-cm-equatorial refractor, G. & S. Merz of Munich (1874) (left: Wikipedia 4, David Adam Kess, right: Jürgen Kost, private collection)

 



Instruments



  • 24-cm-equatorial refractor (9.4 inch), G. & S. Merz of Munich (1874)

    Remarkable is the unusual mounting of telescopes. Striking is the almost horizontal position of the hour axis, which resultes from the latitude of the site near the equator. The inclination of the hour axis in NS direction is just 0°14’!

  • Spectrometer, Merz, Munich, for the refractor
  • Zöllner photometer, Ausfeld of Gotha

  • Replica of the second reflecting telescope, by Isaac Newton which he presented to the Royal Society in 1672

    Replica of Newton’sTelescope (Wikipedia 2, S

    Fig. 5. Replica of Newton’sTelescope (Wikipedia 2, Solipsist)

     



  • Comet seeker (34 Linien, focal length 24’’, field of view 6°), Merz, Munich

  • Meridian circle and universal instrument, Pistor & Martins, Berlin
  • Theodolite, Ertel, Munich
  • Meridian circle, Repsold & Sons, Hamburg (1892)
  • Bosch Omori seismograph, J.A. Bosch, Strasbourg

 

State of preservation 
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Quito Astronomical Observatory is one of the oldest observatories in South America.
The observatory is still in original design and in good condition.

 

Comparison with related/similar sites 
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Bonn Observatory (1844) and Quito Observatory (187Bonn Observatory (1844) and Quito Observatory (187

Fig. 5a,b. Bonn Observatory (1844) and Quito Observatory (1873) (Gudrun Wolfschmidt, Wikipedia)

 



The architecture of observatories around 1800 is characterized by observatories in the shape of a greek cross with a central dome. Examples are among others the observatories in Madrid (1790 to 1846), Turku (1819), Berlin (1835), Bonn (1844), Athens (1846), Quito (1873), Vienna (1883). In the dome was the main instrument, this was a refractor; in the east and west wing was the meridian circle or the transit instrument. Also the library, the living quarters and offices for the astronomers were integrated.

 

Threats or potential threats 
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no threats

 

Present use 
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still used by astronomers.

 

Astronomical relevance today 
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Since 1963 it is a research institute of the National Polytechnic School (EPN) in Quito with the major research fields astronomy and atmospheric physics.

 

References

Bibliography (books and published articles) 
  • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
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  • Herbst, Klaus-Dieter: Die Entwicklung des Meridiankreises 1700--1850. Genesis eines astronomischen Hauptinstrumentes unter Berücksichtigung des Wechselverhältnisses zwischen Astronomie, Astro-Technik und Technik. Bassum: GNT 1996.

  • Kost, Jürgen: Wissenschaftlicher Instrumentenbau der Firma Merz in München (1838--1932). Scientific Instrument Making of the Company Merz in Munich (1838--1932). Bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Gudrun Wolfschmidt. Hamburg: tredition (Nuncius Hamburgensis; Band 40) 2015.

  • López, Ericson: 132 Años de Historia del Observatorio Astronómico de Quito. Quito 2005.

  • Menten: Historia y descripcion del observatorio astronomico de Quito. 1877.

  • Müller, Peter: Sternwarten. Architektur und Geschichte der astronomischen Observatorien. Dissertation Universität Köln 1974.
    Bern, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag (Europäische Hochschulschriften. R.~32, 1) 1975, 2nd edition 1978.

  • Müller, Peter: Sternwarten in Bildern. Architektur und Geschichte der Sternwarten von den Anf"angen bis ca. 1950. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer 1992.

  • Schmidt, Hans: Astronomen der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag 1990.

  • Wolfschmidt, Gudrun: Einleitung: Astronomie in Bonn und in der Eifel. In: Wolfschmidt, Gudrun (ed.): 70 Jahre Observatorium Hoher List. Sieben Jahrzehnte astronomische Beobachtung in der Eifel. [70 Years Observatory Hoher List -- Seven Decades of Astronomical Observations in the Eifel]. Hamburg: tredition (Nuncius Hamburgensis; Band 37) 2020, p. 14-59.

 

Links to external sites 
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  • Observatorio Astronómico de Quito (OAQ)
    https://oaq.epn.edu.ec/

  • Hans J. Haubold: "Ecuador Establishes Division of Solar Physics Phenomena".
    American Astronomical Society (19 April 2014).
    https://aas.org/posts/news/2014/04/ecuador-establishes-division-solar-physics-phenomena

 

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