|In the middle of modern Beijing a medieval astronomy masterwork holds its own. It’s been renamed Beijing Ancient Observatory and is on the southwest side of Jianguomen crossroad in Dongcheng District of Beijing .When I had asked our local guide about it, he said it wasn’t open anymore. Despite his assertion, I wandered the short distance from our hotel and found it both open and quite interesting.
The observatory is located on the roof level of a small building. First built under Kublai Khan a short distance away, the current observatory was completed in 1442 and used by Ming and Qing astronomers. As the Emperor was considered the Son of Heaven, the movements of the heavenly bodies were an important affair. It was taken over by Jesuits in the 1600’s and still has 8 Ming dynasty instruments on the roof – They are, according to the museum “celestial body equipment, equator theodolite, ecliptic theodolite, horizon longitude equipment, quadrant equipment, Simple Phenomena equipment, horizon theodolite ” Most interesting are the dragons and other creatures cast in bronze, that support the various pieces.
Download the Dragons of China image collection
The observatory itself is located on a 15 meter tall brick platform and about 40 x 40 square meters wide, which is actually one of the few remaining pieces of the the old Ming Dynasty city wall. Interesting in itself, it once ran around Beijing. As I entered, a guy motioned me to go up the obvious stairway to the rooftop, while another guy came up and asked if I wanted to see the astronomical instruments. Saying yes, he led me around the back where there were several replica copies (“Made from fiberglass, not original”), and then just happened to come to his shop that sold compasses and seismographs (along with an eclectic selection of jewelry, bronzes and snuff bottles.) Telling him I’d return afterwards, I went back to the stairway where the other guy was still waiting, and now yelled “UP!” in an I-told-you-so manner. Turned out he had his own shop, too, at the top of the stairs.
|Celestial globe||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|
|Armillary sphere||measures the coordinates of the celestial bodies. Constructed of two bronze disks— the ecliptic armillary tracks the sun and the equatorial armillary tracks all other bodies|
|Quadrant||measures the altitudes and zenith locations of the celestial bodies|
|Theodolite||measures altitude and azimuth coordinates of celestial bodies|
|Astronomical sextant||measures the angular distance between celestial bodies|
|On the way back to the hotel, I wandered thru small park, watching card players, bicycle repairmen and dominos games. The card game was similar to Uno and rummy, with card & run matching, but never did get all the rules. Tempo and delivery of cards varied from a casual flick to a defiant slap of a run of cards. Never seemed to affect subsequent play, though, and while there seemed to be a winner for each hand, no cumulative score seemed to be kept. Over at the dominos, similar variations in slap technique were observed, and here the loser would step out to let someone else in for the next round.|