Tanja Barnes


Atop the Beijing Ancient Observatory

Visit on Google Maps Street View


The Beijing Ancient Observatory, on the UNESCO Tentative List, is located on the top of a fort-like building at Jianguo Gate. It is one of the oldest observatories in the world. It used to be a part of the city wall once surrounding Beijing.

Although there were no telescopes at this observatory, there were many sophisticated instruments for taking astronomical measurements, introduced in the 17th century from Western Europe.

Here are eight bronze instruments constructed during the Qing dynasty. Six of them were built by the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–88) in 1669. The first was built by the Portuguese Jesuit Kilian Stumpf (1655–1720) between 1713 and 1715, while the maker of the latter is not clear.

The seven instruments made by the two Jesuits are based on Tycho Brahe’s design but with Chinese decorations, while the last one belongs to the Chinese tradition but with a European system of graduation and sighting. Overall, the observatory is now the only example in the world equipped with Tychonic instruments.

More information including a Chinese produced video and Flash-based virtual tour of the Beijing Ancient Observatory here: www.bjp.org.cn/bjao/