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Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible immovable
National Observatory of Athens, Greece

Format: IAU - Outstanding Astronomical Heritage Description

Description

Geographical position 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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Dimitriou Eginitou, Nymphs’ Hill in Thiseio, Athens, Attica, Greece

 

Location 
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Latitude 37.972713 N, longitude 23.718551 E. Elevation ??? m above mean sea level.

 

IAU observatory code 
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066

 

Description of (scientific/cultural/natural) heritage 
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National Observatory and the city of Athens (Priva

Fig. 1. National Observatory and the city of Athens (Private collection of Maria G. Firneis)


 

Georg Constantin Bouris [Vouris] (1802-1860), trained by Joseph Johann von Littrow (1781-1840) of Vienna, promoted the erection of Athens’ Observatory as one of the oldest research institutes in Southern Europe. He became the first director from 1841 to 1855 and professor at the University of Athens, founded in 1837. For the observatory, the "temple of astronomy", the hill of the nymphs - close to the place where the first Athenian astronomer Meto  observed during Antiquity - was chosen, Hill of the Nymphs borders with Philopappou Hill and is opposite to the Acropolis and the Athenian Agora. The building was designed in neo-classical style in the shape of a Greek cross (oriented to the cardinal directions) with a central dome by the Danish architect Theophilus Edvard von Hansen (1813-1891) with the help of architect and town-planner of Athens Gustav Eduard Schaubert (1804-1860) of Breslau, in 1842/46 and financially supported by Baron Georgios Sinas (1783-1856).
Georg Bouris also acquired the instruments during several travels to Vienna from 1845 to 1852. First light was in 1847. This state institution depended in the 19th century on the private funds of Baron Simon Sinas (1810-1876) and later after 1876 by his widow Ifigenia Sinas. The family Sinas paid even the salary Schmidt.
 

Athens Observatory (Wikipedia)

Fig. 2. Athens Observatory (Wikipedia)




The German director Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt (1825-1884)observed variable stars, meteors and discovered comets and a few periodic variables and two Novae stars. His most famous contribution was the Topographical Chart of the Moon (2m diameter), published in Berlin. He also reorganized the meteorological service of the Observatory of Athens (Beiträge zur physikalischen Geographie von Griechenland, 1864), see Vlahakis. He was also interested in seismology (Studien über Erdbeben, 1975).

Dimitrios Kokkidis (1840-1896) had limited financial ressources because there was no longer support by the Sinas family. Kokkidis concentrated on meridian circle observations for time service, solar spots and meteorological measurements.
 

Athens Observatory, architectural drawings (RussacAthens Observatory, architectural drawings (Russac

Fig. 3a and 3b. Athens Observatory, architectural drawings (Russack: Deutsche bauen in Athen, 1942. Hansen, Theophil: Allgemeine Bauzeitung, 1846)

 

 


 

Athens Observatory, architectural drawings (HansenAthens Observatory, architectural drawings (Hansen

Fig. 4a and 4b. Athens Observatory, architectural drawings (Hansen, Theophil: Allgemeine Bauzeitung (1846). Russack: Deutsche bauen in Athen, 1942)




In 1890, the observatory was renamed National Observatory of Athens (NOA). With state support, the National Committee under the direction of Prince George (1896), and a number of private sponsors, Demetrios Aiginitis (1862-1934), educated in Paris, could order new instruments. The large 63cm refractor, Thomas Cooke, made for Robert Stirling Newall (1812-1889) in 1869, was donated in 1890 to the University Observatory of Cambridge and in 1957 to Athens, Observatory of Penteli.
He added about a hundred new meteorological stations, created a seismological service, founded the Annales de l’Observatoire National d’Athènes and the Academy of Athens (1926), in addition he introduced the World Time Zone system and the Gregorian Calendar in Greece.
 

Athens Observatory at night Konstantina Sakellario

Fig. 5. Athens Observatory at night Konstantina Sakellariou (
http://www.myunusualjourneys.com/on-the-hill-of-the-nymphs)




Stavros Plakidis (1893-1991), having studied in Greenwich, Cambridge, Paris, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg, started observational astrophysics, especially variable stars in collaboration with Arthur Eddington. In 1936, due to the light pollution in Athens, he built the Astronomical Station Penteli.

 

History 
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Directors


  • Georg Constantin Bouris [Vouris] (1802-1860), 1841 to 1855
  • Ioannis G. Papadakis (1825-1876), 1855 to 1858
  • Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt (1825-1884), 1858 to 1885
  • Dimitrios Kokkidis (1840-1896), 1884 to 1890
  • Demetrios Aiginitis (1862-1934), 1890 to 1934
  • Stavros Plakidis (1893-1991), 1935 to 1964

 

Athens Observatory, Merz telescope and Starke tranAthens Observatory, Merz telescope and Starke tran

Fig. 6a and 6b. Athens Observatory, Merz telescope and Starke transit instrument (Hellenic Archive of Scientific Instruments)




Instruments in the 19th century:

  • 6.2’’ (15.8-cm, 250cm  focal length, f/15) large equatorial refractor, Plößl of Vienna
  • 3.7’’ large meridian circle (94mm, f/15, diameter 1m), Christoph Starke of Vienna, optics by Fraunhofer of Munich (1845)
  • Wire micrometer, Casella of London (1850)
  • five small telescopes for comet hunting, one refractor made by Georg Merz, Munich (1880)
  • Prism spectrometer, Plößl of Vienna (1884)
  • Mean solar time pendulum clock, Berthoud of Paris
  • Sidereal time Nocturlabium, Louis Berthoud of Paris (1885)
  • Sidereal time pendulum clock, Heinrich Johann Kessels of Altona (1845)
  • Chronometer, Heinrich Johann Kessels of Altona (1845)
  • two barometers, Heinrich Kapeller of Vienna
  • a set of meteorological instruments
  • Time ball

    Athens Observatory, Starke transit instrument (ANA

    Fig. 7. Athens Observatory, Starke transit instrument (ANA-MPA, http://www.amna.gr/)


  • 16-cm transit circle (2-m focal length), Gautier of Paris, named after Andreas Syngros (1896)
  • 40-cm large equatorial refractor, Gautier of Paris (1900)
  • 20-cm-reflector, Browning of London, donated by K. Ionidis
  • 63cm Newall refractor, Thomas Cooke of York (1869), installed in 1959 in the Penteli Observatory in a 16-m-dome with a rising floor.

 

 

State of preservation 
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This beautiful building is well preserved and recently restored.

 

Comparison with related/similar sites 
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The observatory of Athens (1846) is a good example for the architecture of observatories around 1800 which is characterized by the shape of a greek cross with a central dome. Other examples are among others the observatories in Madrid (1790 to 1846), Turku (1819), Berlin (1835), Bonn (1844), Quito (1873), and Vienna (1883).

 

Threats or potential threats 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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no threats

 

Present use 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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It is still in use for the Astronomical Institute.

 

Astronomical relevance today 
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The National Observatory of Athens operates apert from the Astronomical institute on Nymphs’ Hill three locations:

Athens Observatory, logo

Fig. 9. Athens Observatory, logo


  • Penteli Astronomical Station, Koufou at the northern suburbs of Athens (38.047976°N 023.864437°E), Institute for Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications and Remote Sensing: 63cm Newall refractor, Thomas Cooke of York, 1869, installed in 1959, for the public
  • Kryoneri Observatory (1972), near Corinth, Northern Peloponnese, Mount Kilini (37°58’N 22°37’E, 930m): 1.2m Cassegrain, Grubb Parsons Co. of Newcastle (1975)
  • Chelmos Observatory, Mount Helmos, Aroania, Northwestern part of Peloponnese (37.9857°N 22.1983°E, 2340m): Aristarchos 2.3m Ritchey-Chrétien (f/8) on an Altazimuth mount, Carl Zeiss AG (2005)

 

 

References

Bibliography (books and published articles) 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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  • Audin, David; Bigg, Charlotte & Otto Sibum (ed.): The Heavens on earth: Observations and astronomy in 19th century science and culture. Durham: Duke University Press 2010.

  • Contopoulos, G.: S. Plakidis (22 May 1893 - 30 January 1991). In: Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32 (1991), No. 4, p. 483-484.

  • Firneis, Maria Gertrude: Details zum "internationalen" ersten Leiter der Athener Sternwarte Georgios Constantin Bouris (1802-1860). In: Wolfschmidt 2020, p. 244-254.

  • Galison, Peter & Emily Thomson: The Architecture of Science.
    Cambridge: MIT Press 1999.

  • Hansen, Theophil: Die Freiherr v. Sina’ische Sternwarte zu Athen. In: Allgemeine Bauzeitung Wien 11 (1846), S. 126-131, T. 29-35.

  • Kitmeridis, Panagiotis: Astronomie zwischen Zentrum und Peripherie - Austausch zwischen deutschsprachigen Raum und jungen griechischen Nationalstaat im 19. Jahrhundert. In: Wolfschmidt 2020, p. 256-272.

  • Lohrmann, Wilhelm Gotthelf: Mondcharte in 25 Sectionen und 2 Erläuterungstafeln. Mit beschreibendem Text von J. F. Julius Schmidt. Leipzig: Barth 1878.

  • Niarchos, Panagiotis & A. Petropoulou: 170 Years of observational astronomy in Greece: telescopes and instrumentation. In: Memorie della Societa Astronomica Italiana Supplement 15 (2010), S. 210.

  • Rentetzi, Maria & Spiros Flevaris: Envisioning a new european metropolis: The Athens Observatory, greek astronomy and the imposed path to modernization. In: Hochandel, Oliver & Agusti Nieto-Galan (ed.): Urban Peripheries. New York: Routledge 2018, p. 16-36.

  • Rentetzi, Maria & Efthymios Nikolaidis: Die Sternwarte Athen zur Zeit der "Bayernherrschaft". In: Kyrtsis, Alexandros-Andreas & Miltos Pechlivanos (ed.): Compendium der deutsch-griechischen Verflechtungen (16.09.2020), https://comdeg.eu/compendium/essay/99924/

  • Schmidt, Johann Friedrich Julius: Charte der Gebirge des Mondes, nach eigenen Beobachtungen in den Jahren 1840-1874 entworfen. Berlin: Reimer 1878.

  • Vlahakis, George N.: Early attempts at weather prediction and climate description in 19th century Greece, http://www.meteohistory.org/2004polling_preprints/docs/abstracts/vlahakis_abstract.pdf

  • Wolfschmidt, Gudrun (ed.): Internationality in the Astronomical Research (18th to 21st Century). Hamburg: tredition (Nuncius Hamburgensis, Band 49) 2020.

 

Links to external sites 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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  • Homepage of the Observatory: http://www.noa.gr
     
  • The National Observatory of Athens:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20060517234127/http://www.eie.gr/Hasi/hasi/institut/noa.htm
     
  • The Hellenic Archives of Scientific Instruments: http://www.hasi.gr/institutions/noa
     
  • Kryoneri Observatory: http://kryoneri.astro.noa.gr
     
  • Chelmos Observatory: http://helmos.astro.noa.gr

 

 

Links to external on-line pictures 
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no information available

 

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