Essential Architecture-  Peking

Beijing Ancient Observatory




Beijing / Peking, China




Ming Dynasty




  The armillary sphere
The Beijing Ancient Observatory is a pretelescopic observatory located in Beijing, China. The revolutionary tools used within this ancient observatory were built in 1442 during the Ming Dynasty, and later amended during the Qing.

As one of the oldest observatories in the world, the Beijing Ancient Observatory covers an area of 10,000 square meters. This space is chiefly occupied by a ten-meter tall brick platform bearing several bronze instruments atop its mass. The observatory itself is located on the rooftop of what is now, an astronomy museum.

During the latter of the Qing Dynasty, the Allied Forces invaded Beijing--an act which led to the subsequent thievery of the Chinese instruments. Although nevertheless, as World War I neared closure, the instruments were returned to China by the French and German usurpers.

The armillary sphere is an instrument used to measure the coordinates of the celestial bodies. This instrument is constructed of two bronze disks--one being known as the ecliptic armillary (for tracking the sun), and the other deemed the equatorial armillary (tracks bodies that are not the sun).
The quadrant is an instrument built in 1673 and used in order to measures the altitudes and zenith locations of the celestial bodies.
The theodolite is an instrument built in 1715 and used for measuring both altitude and azimuth coordinates of celestial bodies. The azimuth theodolite is a relatively similar instrument lacking only the ability to record altitude.
The sextant is an instrument used for measuring the angular distance between celestial bodies, and is also used for measuring the angular diameter of the moon and sun.
The celestial globe was built in 1673 and used to determine the time in which the celestial bodies will rise and set; as well as the altitude and azimuth of the bodies at any given time

    The Ancient Observatory is situated at the south side of Jianguomen. It is one of the famous historic sites of astronomy and "An Exhibition Hall of Beijing Ancient Astronomical Instruments of Beijing Planetarium".
    This ancient observatory was built by the astronomers Wang Xun and Guo Shoujing. Its original name was the Administration of Heavenly Observatory. It was changed into Constellation Observatory in the 7th year (1442) of Emperor Zhentong of the Ming dynasty and known simply as Observatory in the Qing dynasty. It has a history of more than seven hundred years since then.
    The Observatory is an elevated brick-built terrace structure and on it are the huge astronomical instruments made of bronze on display. Under it are a cluster of buildings such as Ziwei Hall, Sundial Shadow Hall and other auxiliary structures. Since it served as the center for astronomical observation in the Ming and Qing dynasties it is also known as the Observatory of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
     The astronomical instruments of the Ming dynasty such as celestial globe, plane sundial, rotary stardial and others have been transfered to the Nanjing Purple Observatory and the Nanjing Museum.
    The astronomical instruments preserved here such as the anti-seismic instrument, quadrant instrument, celestrial instrument, ecliptic theodolite, altazimuth, equatorial theodolite telescope etc. were made at the beginning of the Qing dynasty.

The Ancient Observatory, situated at the southeast corner of Beijing's Jianguomen Bridge, was initially built circa 1442, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Its rich history spans more than five hundred years, making it one of the most historically interesting observatories in the world. During the Ming Dynasty it was known as the 'Platform of Star-Watching', but its name was later changed to 'Observatory' during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911). After the Revolution of 1911, the title became 'Central Observatory'. The observatory was renovated in the early 1980s and reopened to the public in 1983. Today, the observatory has become the 'Beijing Ancient Astronomical Instruments Display Hall', an affiliate of the Beijing Observatory.

In total, the observatory covers an area of 1,000 square meters (about 0.25 acre). It is divided into two parts, the platform and the affiliated building. The platform is 17.79 meters (about 58.4 feet) high, 24 meters (about 78.7 feet) long and 20 meters (about 65.6 feet) wide. Eight bronzed astronomical instruments stand on this platform, all of which are ornately carved, having been well preserved since the time of the Qing Dynasty. They are huge but exquisitely carved. The design of the instruments reflects both the influence of Oriental craftsmanship and European Renaissance understanding of measurements and physics. Under the platform stands a group of affiliated buildings, built with simple elegance. Beijing Ancient Observatory is a milestone in Chinese architecture, marking a cultural exchange between the Orient and the West. It is not only a place to observe the heaven but a unique historical treasure.

If you are an amateur astronomer or a fan of stargazing, you can take a turn looking at the starry sky through the ancient observatory, maybe you will catch a glimpse of a meteor or your constellation.

Admission Fee: CNY 10
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 18:00 (summer)
09:00 to 16:30 (winter)
Recommended Time for a Visit: 40 minutes
Bus Route: 1,4,52,402