Monday, November 10, 2008
Reaching for the Stars
Apparently China had many top astronomers back in the day. One calculated the solar calendar, another figured out there were 365 days in a year and the world's earliest records of solar eclipses.
The Ancient Observatory is the place that commemorates all these people, albeit in a kind of shabbily kept area, in southwest Jianguomen.
Admission is 10RMB which is cheap, and if you're into the history of astronomy you'd be quite impressed by China's accomplishments thousands of years ago.
Up at the top of the building are a series of large bronze astronomical instruments that were built by the Jesuits in the 17th and 18th centuries. Unfortunately the labels don't quite explain what they all do and how they were used.
Then down below there are several busts of astronomers who contributed to China's achievements. How did they know how they looked like back in the day?
In one of the buildings, they emphasize how during the Opium War, French and British forces stole these giant bronze instruments and put them in palaces and gardens. Apparently most of them have been returned.
There's also a small garden which still has roses blooming in November.
Too bad the place couldn't be fixed up a bit more with lively presentations and perhaps even interactive stuff.
Now with the success of the Shenzhou VII mission in late September and plans to build a space station, China should now more than ever remember its past astronomers who made such amazing measurements and calculations before calculators and computers.