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History of the Observatory

Beijing Ancient Observatory could trace back to the Sitian Tai  and Taishi Yuan  which was built up by Guo Shoujing and Wang Xun in Yuan dynasty. During the Zhengtong period of Ming Dynasty, observatory was built along the city wall which is near Taishi Yuan. Instruments including the ancient Armillary Sphere, the Simplified Armilla and a Celestial Globe were equipped on top of it. The main building—Ziwei Dian—was also built at that time. The building named Guiying Tang was set up four years later, as well as the gnomon and clepsydra.

After the Manchu power taking over the city in 1644, the observatory was renamed as Guanxiang Tai. During 1669-1674, following the orders of Emperor Kangxi, Belgium Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest designed 6 new astronomical instruments which are similar with western astronomer Tycho Brahe’s instruments. The 6 new astronomical instruments are the Equatorial Armillary Sphere, the Ecliptic Armillary Sphere, the Quadrant, the Celestial Globe, the Sextant and the Altazimuth. Later in 1715, Kilian Stumpf was appointed to make the Azimuth Theodolite. In Qianlong reign(1744), Emperor Qianlong ordered the construction of the last instrument--- the New Armilla(Jiheng Armillary Sphere).


During the invasion of China by the Joint Armies of Eight Nations in 1900, Germany and France carved up ten instruments. The French took five of the instruments back to their embassy, and returned them the next year. The Germans, however, took the other five instruments back to their country and displayed them in Potsdam Hall. It was not until after the First World War, under the request of Chinese government, Germans returned the five instruments to China in 1921.


In 1929, Beijing ancient observatory ended its active observation life and became the first astronomical museum in China. During the Japanese invasion of China, some of the instrument were moved to the Purple Mountain Observatory for safekeeping in 1933.The eight astronomical instruments made in the Qing Dynasty remained on the tower till this day.


After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, the Beijing Ancient Observatory became the historical wing of the Beijing planetarium. In 1982, the Beijing Ancient Observatory was recognized as a key National Heritage site by the National Cultural Relics Protection Bureau, and was reopened to the public in 1983.

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