Ulugh Beg Observatory, Samarkand
Ulugbek was Tamerlane’s grandson. He was a mathematician and astronomer, and he built his observatory in 1428. He did some amazing work, including an accurate solar calendar, and charting the location of over 900 stars.
Some religious leaders thought his work was heresy— he was murdered in 1449, and the observatory was destroyed. The only thing that survived was the underground part of a sextant that he used to measure the distance to the sun
The interesting little museum contains exhibits about his work, and also about the man himself. He encouraged art, music and literature, and the arts flourished during his rule. Craft shops made musical instruments, and books were decorated with beautiful miniatures. The most talented poets of that time worked in Samarkand, and the museum includes copies of several poems to Ulugbek.
This is one of the most important buildings of the world history.
Ulug bey decide to build this observatory in 1428-1429 on one of the hills . In the main hall huge instrument was placed for observations of Moon, Sun, and other stars of the vault of heaven. Observatory was unique construction for its time.
The basis of observatory was giant goniometer (vertical circle), radius of circle was equal 40,212 meters, and the length of arc was 63 meters. The main instrument-sextant-was oriented with amazing exactness by line of meridian from south to north.Scientific knowledge of Ulug bey provided amazing exactness of astronomic observations.
Contribution of creation astronomic catalog-“Zidji-Gurgani”, known as “Star tables of Ulugbek” belongs to Ulugbek. Whole galaxy of great scientists was working on them for a long period and finished them to 1437.Before Copernicus and Kepler...
Exactness of observations of Samarkand astronomers is amazing because they were made without help of optical instruments, with unaided eye. Astronomic tables contents coordinates of 1018 stars, which by Ulug bey’s calculation star year is equal to 365 days 6 hours 10 minutes 8 seconds. Actual length of star year by modern data is 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 9,6 seconds. Thus the mistake is only less that one minute.
After Ulugbek’s death observatory was destroyed . Unfortunately only underground part of sextant and basis of the building were saved.
I am proud to take a role in the renovation of this important monument for humanity..
He might have been a weak and vascillating ruler but Ulugh Bek was an outstanding astronomer. His observatory was the leading scientific institute of the mediaeval world, making Samarkand famous, but the religious zealotry that led to his assassination saw it being torn down very shortly after his death. Although the work he had done was known, the wonderful observatory was completely lost for hundreds of years until an amateur Russian archaeologist, Vladimir Viatkin, working on his own from ancient texts, found the remains of its gigantic sextant in 1908.
Buried deep in the ground, the huge arc, still with its steps, rails and calibrations distinguishable, has been roofed over and the traces of the great circular building that housed it are marked out with low brick walls and paving.
A small museum on the site is dedicated to the work of Ulugh Bek and other Uzbek/Persian scientists, mathematicians and astronomers. When you consider their achievements such as the calculation of the movement of the planets and a catalogue of the stars and their locations are virtually as accurate as similar measurements made by todays' modern instruments and then realize they were made 200 years before the invention of the telescope, you can understand why Uzbeks hold these scholars in such high regard.
The grave of the man whose perseverance and determination led to the rediscovery of the observatory is nearby.
The Timurid ruler Ulug Beg is perhaps better known for his skills as an astronomer than those as a ruler. You can visit his observatory (dating from 1420s), or what remains of it, which is mainly a section of the giant astrolabe below ground. I found this very impressive, but it is hard to show it in a photograph.
There is also a small museum about Ulug Beg and other astronomers.
Ulug Beg, grandson of Tamerlaine, is often referred to as the “Astronomer King”, and this is where to come if you want to find out why and to learn more about this extraordinary ruler. As a young man he developed a love of learning; of mathematics, history, poetry and music – and especially of astronomy. Under his rule Samarkand became known as a cultured city, and here in 1424 Ulug Beg ordered the construction of this huge (for its time) observatory. And it was indeed ahead of its time. I have some very amateurish interest in astronomy myself, and was so fascinated to hear about all his achievements.
Here Ulug Beg worked with other astronomers to record the co-ordinates of over 1,000 stars, to predict eclipses, and most impressive of all measured the solar year to within a minute of our modern, technology-assisted calculations. If you want to read a little more about this man and his achievements I recommend the Wikipedia article on him. There I learned, for instance, that there is a crater on the moon named after him.
The main structure of his Observatory has today almost completely disappeared, to be replaced by a Soviet-constructed series of blocks outlining where it would have been. But below ground you can still see the partial remains (11 metres of them) of his great sextant which was used in many of his observations and calculations. Incidentally it’s called a sextant because only 60 degrees of it were used, but it was actually a full 90 degree quadrant, the largest ever constructed at that time.
Make sure you go in the little museum (photo 2) as it was only there that I was really able to make sense of what the sextant originally looked like and how it operated. There is also a mural showing Ulug Beg teaching astronomy (photo 3). And I rather enjoyed some of the paintings too – one of Ulug Beg’s birth (photo 4) and another of a design for a ballet called “The Legend of Samarkand” (photo 5).
It was constructed in the 20s of XVth century, under the rule of Ulugbek. Here during three decades he carried out measurements of movement of the heavenly bodies, which entered in his work "Tables of Kuragoni". Tables of Kuragoni contained a catalogue of 1018 stars. In the beginning of the XXth century archeologists excaved the bottom part of the observatory, a quadrant with a radius of 40m. There is a little museum next to it where you can understand the work of Ulugbek. His calculations about the rotation of Earth around the sun had a mistake of just few seconds
Timur’s grandson Ulug’bek was not only a ruler in Samarkand, but also an excellent scientist, mathematician and astronomer. In 1428, his observatory Gurkhani Zij was built. Given the scetches and the model I saw in Tashkent’s Timur Museum (pic. 5), it must have been a huge building; 46 m in diametre and 30 m in height on 3 floors. According to the plans it contained not only the huge sextant, but also solar clock and quadrant sector. Only the remains of the sextant have survived and can be seen on the site. It has been discovered by a Russian team of archaeologists in 1908.
Ulug’bek and the other scientists (including Qadi Zada al-Rumi and al-Khasi) did make remarkable findings, given the time of their researches. They located over 900 stars with exact position and calculated the sidereal year with a difference of only 58 minutes. Their measurements are still used today and he is a recognized astronomer in the whole world, see:
Space.com, although they got his country a bit messy, it is Uzbekistan and not Afghanistan….,
St.Andrews University, Mathematics,
However, his scientific ideas and work did not quite meet the expectations of the religious elders, who hated him as he put science over god. He was murdered by beheading in 1449, thus being not the first and last scientist who was sacrificed for religious power over science.
A little museum helds an interesting exhibition about Ulug’bek’s astronomy and work.
Opening hours: daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
2800 som and additional 700 som for taking pictures (all valid for 3 days).
Uzbek name: Ulug`bеk оbsеrvаtоriyasi
Russian name: Обсерватория Улугбека
Ulughbek, opened the doors of Samarkand's greatest Islamic 'University' the Ulughbek medressa in 1420. He was an exceptional man of culture. His own son had him decapitated, and his incredible astolab (he discovered 200 previously unknown stars) was leveled after his death in 1449. It was rediscovered in 1908, and is great to visit. Also, nice displays in English describing the astronomers and scholars of the time.
Ulugbek was an outstanding scientist, astronomer who became famous owing to his "Celestial table" with surprisingly accurate observation data.
There was a gigantic marble sextant there. The instrument was made in all details and was very precise. It was used to determine the coordinates of the Sun, the Moon and other planets.
Walk of 30 min from the Bazaar along a boring road.
Entrance: 1900 sum per person
Too much for these two small musea and the one remainder of the observatorium (part of the enormous sextant)