Monday, November 23, 2009

The Maragheh Observatory

The Maragheh Observatory is an ancient astronomical observatory which was established in 1259 by Khajeh Nasireddin Tusi, an Iranian scientist and astronomer. Located in the heights west of Maragheh, East Azerbaijan province, it was once considered one of the most prestigious observatories in the world. Archeologists have excavated sections of this aggregate, the most important of which being the central tower, five rotating units (used in astronomical research) and a library besides other evidences of this observatory. Upon the request of Tusi, who complained that his astronomical tables were outdated, this observatory was built in a place of Tusi's choice.

Considerable parts of the groundwork are preserved in the ruins. In a citadel-like area stood a four-story circular stone building of 28 meter diameter. The mural quadrant to observe the positions of the stars and planets was aligned with the meridian. This meridian served as Prime meridian for the tables in the Zij-i Ilkhani, as we nowadays apply the meridian which passes the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

The Maragheh Observatory was the largest observatory in its time, consisting of a series of buildings occupying an area of 150 meters in width and 350 meters in length. One of these buildings was a dome which allowed the sun's rays to pass through. There was also a library consisting of 400,000 volumes, which were plundered by the Mongol Empire during its invasions across Persia. The Maragheh observatory was also reported to have had over a hundred students studying under Tusi at the observatory. After Tusi's death, his son was appointed the director of the institution, but it was later abandoned by the middle of the 14th century.

It is not known with certainty until when the Observatory had been active. It turned into ruins as a result of frequent earthquakes and lack of funding by the state. Shah Abbas the Great arranged for repair, however, this was not commenced due to the king's early death. A star globe from the observatory made in 1279 is now preserved in Dresden, Germany. It is a rare example of decorative art from Azerbaijan of the 13th century, designed by M. Ordi and made of bronze, inlaid with silver and gold.

To save the installation from further destruction, Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) has built a dome-framed brass shelter structure and it plans to hold an exhibit of astronomical devices used at Maragheh observatory. Also there are plans for turning it into a research and tourism center. In 2009 the 750th anniversary of the Observatory was commemorated.

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