When strolling east of Tiananmen Square, you will be surprised to see an ancient observatory high up on the top of a fort-like building at Jianguomen Gate. From the avenue below, some of the various archaic instruments can clearly be seen. This is the Beijing Ancient Observatory. With a history of more than 570 years, it belongs to the one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world. Among all the existing ancient observatories, this one has the longest observation history. Moreover, it has long enjoyed high reputation in the world due to its well-preserved buildings and complete instruments.
Beijing Ancient Observatory is located in the southwest side of Jianguomen crossroad at Dongcheng District, mounted on the battlements of a watchtower lying along the line of the old Ming City Wall. Built in 1442, it was the national observatory in Ming and Qing Dynasty. From 1442 to 1929, this ancient observatory had been used for observation for almost 500 years. Now, it has been reformed to Beijing Ancient Astronomical Equipment Exhibition Hall in affiliation with Beijing Planetarium, and it is divided into two parts – the platform and a courtyard at ground level.
The platform of Beijing Ancient Observatory is 14 meters high, 20.4 meters long from south to north and 23.9 meters from east to west, with eight Qing-made astronomical instruments on it. Made of bronze, the eight magnificent and excellent equipment stand high and upright on the black brick platform. From right to left are displayed: a new armilla called Jihenfuchen, quadrant, celestial globe, ecliptic armilla, altazimuth, azimuth theodolite, astronomical sextant, and equatorial armilla, all made in the Qing Dynasty. And they all adopted the European measurement and equipment construction, with large body, beautiful sculpt, and excellent engraving. Although their appearance, floriation and workmanship are traditionally Chinese, they also reflect the process and achievement of large-size astronomical equipment after the period of renaissance of the Western Europe in aspects such as degree scale, vernier and structure. It is the historical witness of oriental and western culture exchanges. They are not only the practical astronomy observation equipment but also the incomparable historic culture relic treasures. Some of these equipments still function as actual observation.
At ground level is a pleasant courtyard, where there are four exhibition rooms: the Ziwei Palace and East Wing-room exhibit the “Lingtai Equipment”, which introduces the site of Lingtai, the reform of existing ancient observatory and the production of astronomical equipment and etc; while the exhibition in the West Wing-room will enlighten you with the abundant calendars and important calendar reforms in China; the Shadow Observation Hall is the place that the astronomers in Ming and Qing Dynasty used to ascertain the time and conduct sun shadow measure. At the rear of the courtyard is an attractive garden with grass, sundials and an armillary sphere.
Address: 2 Dongbiaobei Hutong, south-western corner of Jianguomen Bridge, Dongcheng District, Beijing.
Getting there: You can take Metro Line 1 or Line 2 and get off at Jianguomen Station
Opening Hours: 9:00-17:00 (there is no entry after 16:30). Closed on Monday.
If you want to take photos of the astronomical instruments, you’d better visit there in the morning, because the light condition is most suitable at that time. The following are the photos of the eight Qing-made astronomical instruments. The elaborate flying dragons are carved on the equipment body.