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The Istanbul Observatory

Von: T.R.H. (trknws@hotmail.com) [Profil]
Datum: 17.03.2010 00:10
Message-ID: <a9e20617-b201-4e77-a7ea-a535aea23d45@b9g2000pri.googlegroups.com>
Newsgroup: bit.listserv.travel-l alt.travel alt.culture.turkish.travel alt.culture.turkish
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The Istanbul Observatory

By Prof. Dr. METIN AND

The observatory founded in 16th century Istanbul by Takiyeddin (Taqî
al-Dîn), the greatest Ottoman astronomer, can vie with its
counterparts around the world...

The celestial bodies have been a focus of human interest since time
immemorial. Especially the comets... Some have regarded them as
harbingers of disaster; others have dreamed dreams about them and
penned books and plays. Still others, such as astronomers, have
dedicated their lives to studying them. Takiyeddin, who set up an
observatory in Istanbul in 1575, was one of the most important Ottoman
astronomers. And our subject here is the intimate and fascinating
relationship between the observatory founded in Denmark by Tycho Brahe
and the observatory founded on the slopes of Tophane by Takiyeddin and
a comet that glided through the Istanbul sky.


Astronomy was an advanced branch of science in the Islamic world, in
which major observatories were founded.

One of them was that set up in the 13th century by the astronomer
Nasirüddin Tûsî in Meraga in Iran, which operated for 12 years;
another was the one founded at Samarkand by Ulug Bey, the grandson of
Timur, in the 15th century where the renowned astronomer Ali Kusçu
carried out his studies. A third observatory, and the one that forms
the focus of this article, was built in Istanbul during the reign of
Sultan Murad III. It was the 16th century. The astronomer Takiyeddin
bin Muhammed bin El-Maruf, who is thought to have been of Turkish
origin, had completed his studies in Egypt and was appointed chief
astronomer by Murad III. Takiyeddin had always dreamed of founding an
observatory. So he wrote a letter to Saadeddin Efendi, an historian
who wielded great influence with the sultan, emphasizing the need for
an observatory for making actual observations rather than merely doing
calculations on paper. Grasping the importance of the subject,
Saadeddin Efendi obtained permission from the sultan for the founding
of an observatory, which went into operation at Tophane in 1575.


We come across the observatory at Istanbul in an illustrated
manuscript found in the Istanbul University Library describing events
in the period of Murad III. In the first miniature we see astronomers
working together as a group. Lying before them and in their hands are
the instruments that were used for taking measurements. Sevim Tekeli,
a professor of the history of science who has done important research
on the observatory and Takiyeddin, has established through a detailed
analysis of the instruments that his drawings were largely accurate.
The instruments that were built at the Istanbul observatory bear great
similarity to those used at the observatory founded in 1576 at the
behest of the Danish King Frederick II by the famous astronomer Tycho
Brahe (1546-1601).There were two kinds of instruments at Takiyeddin's
observatory, fixed and portable, as well as an 'observation pit' 27.28
meters deep in which several large instruments were placed. The
instruments were large so as to reduce the effect of the wind and
ensure that the measurements yielded sound results.

Among the fixed instruments the largest was the armillary sphere,
which was used to find the latitude and longitude of the celestial
bodies.A scientific drawing of this instrument can be seen in one of
the miniatures shown here. You can appreciate the size of the sphere
by comparing it with the height of the workers. Another large
instrument was the mural quadrant, which Takiyeddin called a 'libne'.
This instrument, which was six meters in diameter and showed the stars
crossing the meridian, was fixed to a wall parallel to the meridian.
Tycho Brahe was the first Westerner to use the libne, which he again
called by his own name, the 'Tychonicus'. Among the other astronomical
instruments seen in the miniature are a sextant for measuring the
distances between the stars, a wooden quadrant., an instrument with
two apertures, an 'azimuth hemisphere' for determining the positions
of the celestial bodies, a triquetrum, a mechanical clock, an
hourglass, an astrolabe and spheres representing the sky and the


In 1577, two years following the founding of the observatory, a comet
was observed in the skies of Istanbul. This comet had first been
observed by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1572. Publishing a
report about it a year later, he had given it his own name. Exactly
five years from the initial observation of the comet by Brahe, it was
also seen in Istanbul and in the rest of the world. By coincidence a
year after the comet passed by the earth, a plague epidemic broke out
in Istanbul claiming the lives of many people. In palace circles it
was concluded that this 'inauspicious' incident had originated with
the observatory. So the terrified sultan ordered his Chief Admiral
Kilic Ali Pasa to destroy the observatory together with its
instruments in 1580. Brahe in Denmark had established his observatory
on the island of Hveen with a grant from the king. But the king had
died and his son Christian IV had succeeded him. The relationship
between the astronomer and the tripartite alliance of king, church and
aristocracy soured, and the new king cut off Brahe's funds. Forced to
leave the island, the astronomer continued his studies at Prague.


Let us take a look now at the miniatures of the comet known as Tycho
Brahe. A miniature taken from the Topkapi Palace Library shows the
comet amidst the stars and the moon. Here the comet is passing over
the Hagia Sophia, which had two minarets in that period. And on the
right an astronomer is taking measurements with a quadrant. Another
extremely interesting miniature is from the Istanbul University
Library. The comet is passing over Istanbul, which is depicted in a
bird's eye view. In this miniature we can see the city's major
buildings and monuments: at the top, two of the islands; on the left,
the Valide Mosque at Üsküdar, the Maiden's Tower, and Üsküdar Palac
at the top right, the Istanbul city walls, Topkapi Palace, the Hagia
Sophia, the Hippodrome and other important buildings; and at the
bottom right, the quarter of Galata...

Ottoman astronomy also boosts lovely miniatures of the celestial
bodies. The planets, signs of the zodiac, and other constellations
were usually symbolized by human figures, superimposed over which the
stars that constituted the zodiac signs and other constellations were
depicted one by one. Another comet observed in the skies of Istanbul
was Halley's, which first passed by the earth in 240 B.C. Visiting our
planet again in 1910, Halley's comet aroused great excitement among
the populace just as the comet of 1577 had. But this time there were
no malign influences; quite the contrary the comet found great
resonance in art and literature. In the same year, for example, a two-
act musical comedy called 'Halley-Pera', depicting how the comet was
viewed by various circles in Beyoglu, was written and staged at a
cabaret theater called the Catacloum on Hamalbasi Street opposite
Galatasaray Lycée. In the wake of the event, the well-known novelist
HUseyin Rahmi GUrpinar also wrote a humorous novel called 'Marriage
under the Comet'.

In the light of centuries of knowledge and know-how and the newly
developing technologies, man in the past century even set foot on the
moon, where it was always said that he could never go. Astronauts can
travel with ease into the depths of outer space, and very soon it's
going to become clear whether or not there is life on Mars... Are we
'worldlings' going to unravel all the mysteries of the cosmos? Only
time will tell...

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