Hewelius Telescope, Polish Da Vinci lived in Gdansk

Hewelius Telescope, Polish Da Vinci lived in Gdansk

John Hewelius was a famous scientist. He is described as the most important astronomer of XVII c., a Gdansk citizen, who traced the comets, investigated the moon and named the new constellations. He discovered the stars in the night, during the day he was a very skill full manager, a brewer but first and foremost he was a great inventor, called “Polish da Vinci”.

Being a very talented man, Hewelius couldn’t  stick to just one science field. He was a true master in many fields, being ahead of his times. That was the case when astronomy is concerned – the biggest love of his life.

His devotion as a man of Pomerania, to sky observations led to enlarging his observatory into the space covering three roofs of his houses at Korzenna Street. At that time it was the largest and the best equipped star observatory in Europe! It was there, where Hevelius calculated and marked the sky map, where he kept his tools and measuring devices. Most of those were designed, made and decorated by him. His lunettes, quadrants, sextants and octants were so precise, so he was admired by the most famous astronomers of the epoque.

Heweliuszowski teleskop pod murami Gdańska Sztych z dzieła
Hevelius' telescope under the walls of Gdansk
Sztych from the work of "Machina Coelestis" from the collection of the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences

In his big work “Machinae Coelestis pars priori”, published in 1673, Hewelius described his well-equipped astronomical observatory. In the book there is also a description of a device that was extremely exceptional on XVII c.

In the book along with detailed descriptions there are also beautiful drawings by Isaak Saal.

One of them is showing a group of Gdansk citizens gathering around a mysterious, big device. That was the biggest at that time telescope – the pride not only of the astronomer himself but whole city and the reason to be jealous for other scientist from other observatory centres in Europe.

A big telescope was hanged on the big, 30 m high pile. A baroque ancestor of nowadays telescopes had a different construction. It had a kind of scaffolding construction, so it was very light. The reason, why Hewelius decided to build such big telescope (it had 50 m) was imperfectness of those time lenses – the views that they gave were the more unclear, the closer those lenses were put together. Due to the longer distance he got more information

Projekt wieży, na której zawieczony miał zostać teleskop Heweliusza Sztych z dzieła
The design of the tower on which Hevelius's telescope was supposed to be suspended
Sztych from the work of "Machina Coelestis" from the collection of the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences

The telescope was located on the meadow at the Oliwska Gate, where everybody could see it. After some time it was moved on the observatory roof.  Despite its light construction it was quite problematic to use due to its big size. There was a system of lines and levers but it did not help much, still it was uncomfortable to use, so he preferred smaller devices. At first the telescope was planned to be located on the top of a special wooden tower above the roofs of 1000 year old Gdansk. But that plan was not accepted.  It cannot be changed that this so called in XVII “ gate to heaven”, Gdansk telescope, helped to do the big discoveries, but also started a new era of observatory devices.

Astronomical Gdansk at the moment

Currently, Centrum Hewelianum takes care of the Hewelius heritage, promoting his passion to astronomy. It is situated in the heart of Gdansk, very sophisticated centre of science and entertainment, in the historical buildings of a former fort at Gradowa Hill. There is a wonderful view from there but also a good place for sky observations.

 A bit less known is the Astronomical Observatory in Autonomy High School with a name if Robert Głowacki. Twice a week the place is opened for all  astronomy lowers, big and small.

Night observations from the school roof are led by the professional astronomers who share their passion to the others. Along with the sky observations there are also lectures, science meetings and workshops organised there.

The observatory is located on the school roof of Gdanska Szkoła Autonomiczna at Osiek Street 11/12. Opened Wednesdays (7-10 pm) and Thursdays (6-10pm).