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The Astronomical Tower

Home to the Camera Obscura and Museum        

Standing at 53 metres the Astronomical Tower rises high above the Lyceum.

Figuratively and literally it is the crowning achievement of Bishop Eszterhazy`s quest to bring university education to his beloved Eger.


The Astronomical Tower as seen from the Lyceum courtyard

Alas it was not to be, with the issuing of the Ratio Educationis in 1777, `In Hungary there will be but one university in Buda`, the hoped for university was granted `lowly'  lyceum status.

As a consequence the mere college was not permitted to teach astronomy and so the tower and its state of the art instruments fell into disrepair.

eger hungary

View from Astronomical tower looking down on the lyceum and the Basilica beyond.

It had all started so well.....

The architects of the proposed university and tower were Jozsef Gerl and Jakab Fellner, the former fell out of favour with the bishop over plans for the height of the tower, Esterhazy wanted something big and bold so he parted company with Gerl and employed Fellner.

The tower was finished in 1776 and has 9 floors. Fellner finished it off with a small, revolving dome housing a camera obscura.

Miksa Hell (great name for a star gazer), the leading astronomer of his day was instructed to gather the instruments required for the new observatory, this he did ordering the finest equipment of the day from the workshops of London.

The Meridian Line used to determine solar noon.

In 1776 Hell travelled to Eger with some of the newly procured instruments.

While in the city he determined the exact position of the Meridian Line (Linea Meridialias) which, by directing sunlight through a small hole situated in the wall, marks when the solar noon occurs.

The Meridian or Midday line (see image to the left) can be viewed on the 6th floor of the tower in the Astronomical  Museum.

Today it is possible to visit the museum on the sixth floor, the warming room on the 7th floor and the camera obscura on the ninth.

Astronomical Museum

The west observation room now houses the astronomical instruments of the former observatory. There is an audio tour in English and German which really helps to put the exhibits into context and explains their purpose.

On the floor it is possible to see the Meridian Line created out of Carrara marble and crystallised limestone from Hungary; if you`re lucky you might even see the sun hitting the line, but make sure you`re visiting around noon (and it is a clear day).

The Astronomical Museum

Exhibits on display in the museum include:

Large wall quadrant – Sisson`s Workshop, London 1776

Astronomical Clock - John Arnold, London, 1776.

Dollond Telescope - Peter Dollond, London, 1780

Achromatic Dollond Telescope – as above.

Gregory Reflector – A.Schulz , Vienna, 1776.

Portable quadrant - Sisson`s Workshop, London 1776

Small Dollond Telescope - Peter Dollond, London, 1780

Perhaps the most interesting piece is the `exploding sundial` (my translation). This is a conventional sundial but contains a hollow where gun powder can be placed. With the coming of the solar noon, the gunpowder is heated by the sun and explodes. Very useful.

Opposite the museum is the magic tower which I will deal with on another page.

The Warming Room

On the floor above the museum is the warming room. It was cold work doing astronomy in the eighteenth century, the warming room was where chilled stargazers could come and sit in front of the fire after a bout of observation.

A room for the astronomers to warm up after a hard night`s star gazing

The Camera Obscura

Last, but certainly not least is the Camera Obscura. It was never meant to have a serious purpose but rather Bishop Esterházy wanted something he could show off to his friends and this fitted the bill perfectly.

Located at the very top of the tower on the 9th floor you may have a bit of a wait to get in as it is a small room and numbers are restricted but it is well worth the wait especially if you have kids.

One of only three in the world (the others are in Edinburgh and Adelaide), the Camera Obscura consists of mirrors, a lens, a screen and a very dark room.

Very simple but effective, it projects an image of the town onto the screen through the simple movements of two levers. The view can be changed by the operator; in essence it is like real time film and one can only imagine the delight of those watching in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The operators usually speak English and will explain, in far more detail than I have, how the Camera Obscura works; sometimes, but not always they let visitors have a go.

camera obscura

Illustration depicting the workings of the camera obscura (with thanks to Eszterhazy Karoly Foiskola)

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