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Observatory of Ulugbek

Samarkand-Ulugbek's observatory

   In the foothills overlooking Afrosiab to the northeast are the remains of a remarkable 15th century observatory, the crowning achievement and disaster of tamerlane’s grandson, astromer-king Ulugbek.  In 1908, the mystery of its whereabouts was solved after years of painstaking research by Russian archaeologist Vyatkin. Today visitors can view his discovery, the underground section of a vast meridian arc, ignored by the fanatics who destroyed the building in 1449. It was the largest 90 9degree) quadrant the world had ever seen, though it is called a sextant as only 60 (degree) were used. Deeply embedded in the rock to lessen seismic disturbance, the surviving 11-metre arc sweeps upwards in two marble parapets cut with minute and degree calibrations for the astrolabe that ran its length. The arc completed its radius at the top of a three-storey building. Above ground floor service rooms were arcades designed as astronomical instruments. A witness described the planetarium-like decoration: “Inside the rooms he had painted and written the image of the nine celestial orbits and the shapes of the nine heavenly bodies, and the degrees, minutes and seconds of the epicycles; the seven planets and pictures of the fixed stars, the image of the terrestrial globe, pictures of the climes with mountains, seas and deserts ….” The sextant is now covered by a portal and vault at the centre of the observatory’s foundations. Vyatkin’s grave lies nearby, as he had requested. A memorial museum details the careers of Tamerlane and his grandson. Ulugbek’s scientific success, the culmination of a Central Asian tradition including al-Khorezmi, al-Beruni and Avicenna, is set alongside the political



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