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Category of Astronomical Heritage: tangible immovable
Santa Fé de Bogotá, National Observatory of Colombia

Format: IAU - Outstanding Astronomical Heritage Description

Description

Geographical position 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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    Date: 2021-04-04 04:17:22
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Santa Fé de Bogotá, National Observatory of Colombia,
822 Cra. 8, Bogotá, Colombia

 

Location 
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Latitude 18°20’37’’ N, Longitude -66°45’11’’ W, Altitude 2640m above mean sea level.

 

IAU observatory code 
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-

 

Description of (scientific/cultural/natural) heritage 
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    Date: 2021-04-18 19:26:59
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Creation of the Santa Fe de Bogotá Observatory

Santa Fé de Bogotá, National Observatory of Colo

Fig. 1. Santa Fé de Bogotá, National Observatory of Colombia (1803) (Wikipedia 3, Andrés Muñoz Castillo)

 



The initiative for building an observatory goes back to José Celestino Bruno Mutis y Bosio (1732--1808), a Spanish priest, botanist, and mathematician, also interested in astronomy. In March 1762, he explained the foundations of the Copernican world system and modern experimental methods in the sciences while giving a lecture at the Colegio de Rosario. In 1774 he had to defend modern science, the Copernican world system and mathematical natural philosophy before the Holy Inquisition.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769--1859), arriving in Bogotá on 6 July 1801 and stayed until Septemver 1801, where he met Mutis in 1801 in Santa Fe de Bogotá, and later Francisco José de Caldas (1758--1816) in Quito in 1802, and wrote a supporting letter to Mutis.

Thus the foundation stone of the observatory was laid already on May 24, 1802, under the direction of the Capuchin architect Fray Joseph Pascual Domingo de Petrés (1759--1811), who emigrated in 1792 to the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada (now Colombia) and was the first architect by training in Bogotá. The building, located in the eighth avenue (carrera) with eighth street (calle), was erected in the garden of the Real Expedición Botánico of Mutis (1761). This former headquarters of the National Astronomical Observatory, were adjacent to the Nariño Palace, Bogotá. The work was completed on August 20, 1803. The observatory (height 2686m) in neoclassical style is an octagonal building and a 22-m-high tower building, later a dome was added.
Santa Fé de Bogotá Observatory is the first astronomical observatory that was built on the American continent. It was also Colombia’s tallest building until the Cathedral of Bogotá was constructed in 1823.
 

José Celestino Mutis (1732--1808), botanist of Ne

Fig. 2. José Celestino Mutis (1732--1808), botanist of New Granada (Colombia), born in Cádiz, Spain (Wikipedia 4, Wellcome Collection, https://wellcomecollection.org/works?query=Jos%C3%A9%20Celestino%20Mutis&page=1)



José Celestino Mutis recommended his former student Don Francisco José de Caldas (1771--1816), cloth merchant lawyer and self-taught scientist in meteorology, botany, and astronomy, and he was appointed as first director. Caldas started his astronomical and meteorological observations in December 1805; it was also intended for surveying and mapping New Granada (later Colombia). He had only a few astronomical instruments, but no telescope. Caldas allowed the conspirators against the Spanish regime to meet in the observatory, due to this, in 1810, Caldas neglected his scientific work and left the observatory, became military engineer and cartographer -- executed in 1816.

 

Difficult History of the Santa Fe de Bogotá Observatory in the 19th Century

Benedicto Domínguez (1783--1868) was the successor, but in 1814, General Simón Bolívar (1783--1830) took Santa Fé de Bogotá by storm, and his troops looted the Observatory and even took Benedicto Domínguez hostage. There was no activity until 1823, when the Boussingault Mission with five young foreign scientists arrived.  
Simón Bolívar, who led what are currently the countries of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama to independence from the Spanish Empire, encouraged the development of engineering and science in the nascent republic, and supported the reactivation of the observatory in 1823.
The young chemist Jean-Baptiste Boussingault (1802--1887) made meteorological observations. In 1827 the Observatory was in charge of the writer and doctor Benito Osorio (1792--1848) who made meteorological observations for a year. From 1828 to 1840, it was again in charge of Benedicto Domínguez, who published several astronomical almanacs, then Joaquín Acosta (1800--1852), politician and military man, who made meteorological measurements, and botanist  Francisco Javier Matiz (1774--1851).
In 1848 it became part of the Military College. In 1854 the Observatory was abandoned.

In 1859 it resumed its activity as an observatory, with the military engineer José Cornelio Borda (1829--1866) being appointed director. In 1866 the engineer and astronomer Indalecio Liévano Reyes (1834--1913), mathematician, engineer, and astronomer, was appointed director and professor at the Faculty of Engineering at the National University of Colombia. Liévano made observations of occultation of stars and planets by the Moon, calculated ephemeris and made meteorological observations.

In 1867, the astronomical observatory was suddenly converted into a prison-fortress. General Santos Acosta organized the National University of Colombia, and in 1868, Manuel Ancízar, Rector of the University, appointed José María González Benito (1843--1903) director of the Astronomical Observatory. González Benito gave classes in Meteorology, Astronomy, Paleontology and Geology at the Observatory. He observed shooting stars and in 1882, he started to publish the Annals of the National Astronomical Observatory of Bogotá. In 1891, the engineer Julio Garavito Armero (1865--1920) was appointed Director of the Observatory, who carried out numerous theoretical studies and meteorological and astronomical observations.

After this heyday, there was again total inactivity. The premises ended up being ruined and the few instruments and books were partly lost and partly damaged. In 1921, Simón Sarasola (1871--1947), Jesuit priest and meteorologist from Belen Jesuit Observatory at Havana in Cuba, was appointed as Garavito’s successor; this led to the founding of a National Meteorological Observatory Colegio Nacional de San Bartolomé in Bogotá. In 1923, he established the first seismograph in Colombia, 1941 the Geophysical Institute.

New Astronomical Observatory in National University of Colombia since the 1930s

In 1930 the Observatory was reorganized and the engineer Jorge Álvarez Lleras (1885--1952), one of Garavito’s scholars, was appointed as director (until 1949). In 1936, the Astronomical Observatory was incorporated into the National University of Colombia. The engineer Belisario Ruiz Wilches (1887--1958) was appointed as director, and the new observatory of the University City was built in 1952. As new instrument, an apochromatic refracting telescope was purchased, used before in the Observatory in Marseille, France.
The engineer Jorge Arias de Greiff was director until 1998; between 1974 and 1980 the direction was in charge of the engineer Eduardo Brieva Bustillo.

National Observatory of Colombia within the Univer

Fig. 1. National Observatory of Colombia within the University City (Ciudad Universitaria), Bogotá  (1803) (Wikipedia 3, Andrés Muñoz Castillo)

 

 

History 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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    Subentity: 1
    Version: 3
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-04-18 19:27:57
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

Instruments

  • Quadrant of Humboldt, Francisco José de Caldas
  • Quadrant Sisson,
  • Chronometer,
  • Theodolit,
  • Mariner’s compass
  • Three Dollond Telescopes,
  • Octant,
  • Sextant,
  • Pendulum clock, Graham of London
  • 20-cm-apochromatic refractor (3m focal length)

In the observatory, one can find in memory of Alexander von Humboldt’s activity in founding this observatory:

  • Painting in the observatory, Cartagena, Bogotá 1802
  • Alexander von Humboldt statue.

 

 

State of preservation 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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    Date: 2021-04-04 04:47:26
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

The observatory in Bogotá was declared as a National Monument of Colombia by decree 1584 of August 11, 1975.

 

Comparison with related/similar sites 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 177
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    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-04-04 04:48:15
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

It was a tower observatory like many 18th century European observatories.
Very interesting is the octagonal shape of additional the building --
typical for observatories around 1800, reminding of the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

 

Threats or potential threats 
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    Entity: 177
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    Date: 2021-04-04 04:49:42
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

no threats

 

Present use 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
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    Date: 2021-04-04 04:49:21
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At present it is located within the premises of the Casa de Nariño.
It is no longer used as observatory.
The new observatory building is attached to the Faculty of Sciences of the National University of Colombia in Bogotá.

 

Astronomical relevance today 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 177
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    Date: 2021-04-04 04:50:19
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Currently, the new Observatory is at the Department level attached to the Faculty of Sciences, Bogotá headquarters of the National University of Colombia. Research, teaching and extension work is carried out; Master and Doctorate programs in Astronomy are offered, the only graduate program in Astronomy in Colombia.

 

References

Bibliography (books and published articles) 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 177
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    Date: 2021-04-04 04:51:28
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

  • Alcacer, Antonio de: Fray Domingo de Petres, arquitecto capuchino. Puente del Comun 1958.
     
  • Amaya, Jose Antonio: Celestino Mutis y la Expedicion Botanica.  Madrid 1986.
     
  • Appel, John Wilton: Francisco Jose de Caldas: a scientist at work in Nueva Granada. In: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 84 (1994), 5.  Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society 1994 (154 pp.).
     
  • Bateman, Alfredo D.: El Observatorio Astronómico de Bogotá: Monografía histórica con ocasión del 150 aniversario de su fundación. 1803-agosto. Bogota: Universidad Nacional 1954 (189 pp.).
     
  • Bateman, Alfredo D.: Francisco Jose de Caldas, el hombre y el sabio: su vida, su obra. Cali: Banco Popular 1978. (427 pp.)
     
  • Caldas, Francisco Jose de: Descripcion del Observatorio astronomico de Santafe de Bogota. From journal: Semanario del Nueve Reino de Granada 1808; ed. by Francisco Jose de Caldas. Reprinted: Semanario del Nueve Reino de Granada. Bogota: Ministerio de Educacion de Columbia 1942.
     
  • Donnelly, Marian: A Short History of Observatories. Eugene: U. Oregon 1973.
     
  • Glick, Thomas F.: Science and society in twentieth-century Latin America. In: Bethell, Leslie (ed.): The Cambridge History of Latin America, Volume VI. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 1994, p. 509.  
     
  • Gutierrez, Ramon: Fray Domingo Petres: y su obra arquitectonica en Colombia. Bogota: Banco de la Republica 1999  (191 pp.).
     
  • Keenan, P.C.: The Earliest National Observatories in Latin-America. In: Journal for the History of Astronomy 22 (1991), No. 1, p. 21--30 (1991JHA....22...21K).
     
  • Lleras, Jorge Alvarez: Resena Historica del Observatorio Astronomico y Meteorologico de Bogota, desde el ano de 1803 hasta el presente. Bogota: Aguila Negra Editorial, 1931.
     
  • McConnell, Anita: Instruments for South America. In: Dragoni, Giorgio; McConnell, Anita & Gerard L’E. Turner (ed.):  Proceedings of the 11th International Scientific Instrument Symposium, Bologna University, Italy, Sept. 9-14, 1991. Bologna: Grafis edizioni 1994 (256 p.).
     
  • Osorio, Luis H.: Nota Biografica Sobre el R. P. Simon Sarasola. In: Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 24 (1943), 3, 116-117 (doi:10.1175/1520-0477-24.3.116).
     
  • Ramirez, J. Emilio: The Rev. Simon Sarasola, S.J. 1871--1947. In: Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 38 (1948), 3,  229--231.
     
  • Safford, Frank: The Ideal of the Practical: Colombia’s Struggle to Form a Technical Elite. Austin: University of Texas Press 2014.  
     
  • Sluiter, Engel: The First Known Telescopes Carried to America, Asia, and the Arctic, 1614--39. In: Journal for the History of Astronomy 28 (1997), 2, pp. 141--145.
     
  • Stroobant, P.; Philippot, J; Delporte, E. & E. Merlin: Les Observatoires Astronomiques et les Astronomes. Bruxelles: Hayez 1907.
     
  • Udias, Agustin: Searching the Heavens and the Earth: The History of Jesuit Observatories. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic 2013.
     
  • Woodward, Robert Simpson: Astronomy, Meteorology, and Seismology. Arkose Press 2015.

 

 

Links to external sites 
  • InfoTheme: Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century
    Entity: 177
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    Version: 2
    Status: PUB
    Date: 2021-04-04 04:51:56
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt


  • Abrahams, Peter: The Observatory of Bogota, Colombia, founded 1803, (2005),
    http://home.europa.com/~telscope/bogota.txt,
    http://home.europa.com/~telscope/binotele.htm
  • Atlas obscura, National Observatory of Colombia, Bogotá,
    https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/national-astronomical-observatory
  • Casa de NARIÑO, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia (the old observatory is inside this Palace area),
    https://visitas.presidencia.gov.co/web/HouseNarino.aspx


 

Links to external on-line pictures 
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    Entity: 177
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    Date: 2021-04-03 19:33:19
    Author(s): Gudrun Wolfschmidt

no information available

 

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