Around 1840, the national benefactor, Baron Georgios Sinas ambassador in Vienna, expressed his intention to make a donation for science development in Greece. He took advice from his friend, the Austrian ambassador in Athens, who knew the Greek-Austrian physicist and astronomer Georg Constantin Bouris. Bouris became the first director of Athens Observatory, and was also involved in the construction of the building.
The first building, known as Sinas building, was based on a project presented by Eduard Schaubert and designed by the Danish architect Theofi Hansen it was the first building of the later famous Hansen. The cross-like neoclassic building has its sides oriented toward the four directions of the horizon. There is a small dome for a telescope in the center of the construction. The building was completed in 1846. See some original blueprints (from my personal collection)
• 6.2" (158mm, f/15) refractor Plossl
• 3.7" meridian circle Fraunhofer
• five small telescopes for comets
• chronometers for civil and sidereal time
• set of meteorological instruments
The Observatory of Athens foundation ceremony in June 26, 1842, the day of a Solar Eclipse, is a magnificent official event. King of Greece Otto, members of the Government and of the Greek Church. A large crowd of people fills up the vicinity of the place selected for the Observatory, a location on the hill of Nymphs at Thiseio, facing the Acropolis. Following the panegyric speech by professor Vouris, the foundation stone is set under music sounds and cannonade by a Danish frigate anchored in Piraeus port.
In 1855 Bouris became ill and went for retirement to Vienna, where he died on January 2, 1860. Prof. Ioannis G. Papadakis, full Professor of Mathematics, since 17 August 1854, at the University of Athens was chosen as a director on an interim basis. In December 1858 the nomination for the new permanent director took place, on December 4 Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt was nominated, and on 16 December Schmidt became the new director of Athens Observatory.
The presence of the German born Schmidt, used as a poltical tool for the forging of the Greek German friendship.
The post card below (from my personal collection) depicts the Greek (of Danish origin: https://en.wikipedia...rge_I_of_Greece) King George I, with the German Emperor Wilhelm II embracing the Observatory.
Utilizing the Sina's family donation, Johann Friedrich Julius Schmidt took care of the instruments' repairing and maintenance. Soon he started to observe the Sun, Moon, planets, comets and variable stars. He enriched the Observatory's library with many scientific books and journals. Some of them were donated by observatories. Schmidt started the editing of Publications of the Observatory of Athens.
During the 25 years of his work in the Athens Observatory, he performed more than 70,000 observations of variable stars and discovered few periodic variables and two Novae stars. Most of the results were published in the journal Astronomische Nachrichten. For many years, J. Schmidt studied the planets Mars and Jupiter and drew the changes on their surfaces. He observed the bright comet of the 1860 and two years later discovered a periodic comet. The clear sky allowed him to make thousands observations of meteors. He also had the opportunity to observe a number of Solar eclipses and many eclipses of Moon.
The Topographical Chart of the Moon (Charte der Gebirge des Mondes) published in Berlin, is perhaps his most brilliant work. In an area of two meters diameter, consisting of 25 parts and representing the visible surface of the Moon, there are drawn about 30,000 craters as observed with the 158 mm Plossl telescope. Schmidt also completed the semi finished Lohrmann Moon Atlas.
Significant is also his study of the crater Linne showing apparent morphological changes.
Below you can see the front of the Schmidt’s book (from my personal collection)
Julius Schmidt reorganized the meteorological service of the Observatory of Athens. He performed meteorological observations in many places in Greece and regularly sent data to the Observatory of Paris. These results are presented in his work "Beiträge zur physikalischen Geographie von Griechenland" (1864).
Very significant was his interest in the field of seismology. With the help of volunteers, he recorded more than 3,000 earthquakes and published his "Studien über Erdbeben" (1875). So well, few years he observed the Santorini volcano, since the eruption in 1866, and published the study of this The coincidence is quite strange since Schmidt announced his Linne observation under the bias of the Santorini volcano observations.
Demetrios Kokkidis undertook temporarily the direction of the Observatory of Athens in 1884. Because of the financial situation of the Observatory (the funds of the Sinas family donation were already exhausted), Demetrios Kokkidis had very limited possibilities for administrative and scientific activity. He continued regular meridian circle observations for the purpose of time service and observed solar spots. He succeeded in expanding the meteorological stations network to few places far from Athens
With a special law of the Greek Parliament on June 19, 1890, the Athens Observatory became a governmental research center and its name was changed to National Observatory of Athens. With this law, Demetrios Eginitis was appointed Director of the NOA. In addition to the Astronomical Institute, two others were created, the Meteorological and the Seismological Institutes. Eginitis studied Mathematics in France under Gaston Darboux, while trained as astronomer at Paris Observatory under the guidance of Admiral Mouchez,
Below you can see the letter of recommendation from Prof. Darboux to Admiral Mouchez (from my personal collection, donated now to Observatory Archives).
Eginitis' very first care was to find funds and donations. He got a credit from the University and performed a restoration of the observatory building and of its old instruments. Because of the economic situation in Greece, the governmental aid was very limited. Eginitis organized a national committee that in a few years succeeded in collecting a considerable sum from fellow Greeks. Among the generous donators were D. Doridis, A. Syggros, M. Korgialenios, P. Stefanovik, E. Zarifis, K. Mavromichalis, A. Skouzes, and N. Chrysovelonis.
With the collected funds, the Thiseio site of the Observatory was expanded, a neighboring area was bought and three new buildings were erected. New instruments were ordered and installed at NOA, a 16 cm meridian circle , installed at a special built room, separate from the original building) with an ultra-precise Fenon Clock,and a 40 cm refractor.
The meridian telescope served for many years as the determinant instrument for the official Athens Time, and with the use of a tall Time Ball (now dismantled) the correct time was available to the ships in the Piraeus harbour. Now the Meridian room is fully preserved as it was 100 years ago. It is absolutely beautiful, and offers a real unforgettable experience to the visitor.
Optics of the 40cm refactor and of the meridian telescope were made by the famous Henry Brothers while the mechanics provided by Gautier. Both their construction was supervised by Maurice Loewy, personal friend of D. Eginitis. I have used the equatorial refactor personally, and I am very impressed of its quality despite its f/12.5 focal ratio. The instrument now is fully operational, and is used for public viewing of the heavens. The instrument was so important to the observatory, so in the morning of 28/Oct/1940, after the declaration of war from Italy, immediately after the announcement of the Army mobilization law activation, the Government ordered that the telescope should be dismantled and stored in a cave for protection.
During the December 1944. at the beginning of the Greek Civil war, the Observatory Hill was the very center of fierce battles among Royalists and Leftists. One of the observatory employees was killed, and the 40cm refactor mounting counterweight still bears a bullet hit mark.
Another telescope, a 20 cm reflector made by Browning was donated by K. Ionidis. (see a vintage picture of it, from my personal collection, below).
I will meet soon the Directory of the Observatory in order to arrange the reflector restoration.
Eginitis reorganized the meteorological net, adding about a hundred new stations and creating a seismological service. He organized the edition of the "Annales de l'Observatoire National d’Athènes" (see them below in my personal collection):
Eginitis played a significant role in the political and academic life in Greece. He was Minister of Education in 1917 and in 1926, and was the founder of the Academy of Athens in 1926. His contribution in accepting the World Time Zone system and the Gregorian Style Calendar in Greece was also substantial.
Stavros Plakidis worked at the Observatory since 1915. In 1927 S. Plakidis was promoted to assistant astronomer and in 1928, with the recommendation of Professor Eginitis, he continued his studies for two years in Greenwich, Cambridge, Paris, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg. In 1931 he was proclaimed Doctor of Mathematics and was nominated regular astronomer of NOA.
In 1935 Stavros Plakidis was elected Professor in the University of Athens and at the same time was nominated Supervisor of the Astronomical Department of NOA. In two years the NOA changed two Directors, firstly professor Nikolaos Kritikos was nominated, then Elias Mariolopoulos. In 1937, Director of NOA Georgios Chors was nominated.
Professor Plakidis was already a well-known astronomer and continued his work in the field of observational astrophysics. He published many papers in famous astronomical journals. Well known is his work on long-period variable stars in collaboration with professor Sir Arthur Eddington, which was published in 1929.Stavros Plakidis made many efforts to move the observations far from the city center. In 1936 the beginning of the Astronomical Station Penteli was set.
Below you can see the first building of the new station housing a Zeiss 11 cm equatorial refractor under a dome, while a 11 cm Zeiss on altazimuth mounting was used for variable star observation (photo taken during German Occupation period, mid 40s, from my personal collection)
World War II significantly delayed the development of the station.During German Occupation, the observatory seized from the German Navy, using its facilities for the marine chronometer adjusting and for meteorological observations.
Around 1957, the famous Newal refractor installed in Penteli. The telescope is fully operational and serves the second visitor center.
National Observatory operates now a Grubb Parsons 120cm reflector installed at a separate station in Peloponnesus (http://kryoneri.astro.noa.gr/) and a 2.2 reflector (Aristarchus Telescope) installed in its own dome on the Chelmos Mountain (http://helmos.astro.noa.gr/).
The old premises (Thission) and the Penteli station are open to the Public. I strongly suggest to any fellow astronomer visiting Athens to visit also the aforementioned sites. Information can be found at:
Staff always welcome of visitors, and of course you can contact me for any further information. The Thission site is very near to Acropolis/Parthenon complex, and offers great view to the ancient monuments.
PS I used data from Wikipedia and from the NOA web site. Many photos should follow in the coming days.
Edited by mitsos68, 01 July 2016 - 08:41 AM.