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Star gazing at the Urania observatory in Vienna

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Talking a stroll along the Danube Canal in the Vienna’s First district, you will come across the Urania building. Urania is home of Vienna’s oldest and most modern public observatory, which offers star gazing. Being located in the centre of Vienna, the Urania can be easily reached by different means of public transportation, or if you are already in the city centre, you can take a stroll. 

A 36-meter-high astronomical tower, with the dome on the top of it, separates this building from the other neighbouring structures. Alone the Urania building, from an architectural point of view, is  unique. It was built in the Jugendstil by an architect Max Fabiani, who was a student of a very famous Vienna’s architect Otto Wagner.  In addition, the location at the confluence of Danube Canal and Wien River makes it even more interesting.

©iStock/Creativemarc
©iStock/Creativemarc

The star of Vienna

The Urania observatory is one of the three public observatories in Vienna. It was opened in May 1910, three weeks before the official opening of the Urania National Education Institute, which got its name after the Muse Urania. The main reason for before-schedule opening was to observe the flyby of famous Halley's Comet, that reached its greatest brightness at this time. Below the revolving dome, a powerful, more than five tons heavy, the main telescope was hidden. It was a refractor from Carl Zeiss, which offered the visitors a unique possibility for star gazing. After its opening, the observatory was an instant hit. Viennese were very excited about this innovation.  In order to satisfy the high demand and promote public education, five additional telescopes were installed. Sadly, in November 1944, the Urania observatory and its telescopes were almost completely destroyed. Twelve years after the destruction, the observatory was renovated and reopened.

©Wikipedia/Hans Bernhard
©Wikipedia/Hans Bernhard

Today, the observatory is equipped with a powerful double telescope, which provides visitors with the possibility to observe different celestial objects, even during the cloudy days. This observatory offers numerous guided tours for adults and children as well.

“The Urania's Time”

Since the introduction of Central European Time (CET) in 1910, the observatory of Urania undertook a self-imposed task of providing correct time in Vienna. Since 1913, the time was also distributed by telephone as "the Urania's time". Firstly, it was a paid service, and afterwards, free for everyone.  Despite it, the majority of people continued to focus on church clocks. However, in 1911, a signal gun, controlled by the master clock was installed. The cannon fired a shot every day at exactly 12 o'clock, after which the Viennese were able to set their clocks. Soon, the canon was replaced by the time ball, which fell at 12 o'clock on a mast at the Urania building.  After the World War II, the Urania time service was discontinued, and the clock was decayed, but it was restored 2009-2010.

©Wikipedia/Gugerell
©Wikipedia/Gugerell

The Urania observatory in Vienna is responsible for a successful popularisation of astronomy in Austria. Being in the heart of the city, it offers Viennese and its visitors the possibility of star gazing. So don’t miss it!  


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The author

Ogi Savic

Ogi Savic

I am Ogi. A journalist and economist, I live in Vienna and I am passionate about skiing, traveling, good food and drinks. I write about all these aspects (and more) of beautiful Austria.

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