Initially completed in 1833, the Observatory is the oldest part of the University of Oslo. In 1834, geophysicist and astronomer Christopher Hansteen moved into the building with his family and made it both his home and workplace. From the hill atop Solli, he conducted scientific measurements and astronomical observations for the annual Norwegian almanac. Thanks to Hansteen, Oslo (then called Kristiania) made great strides toward standard time, weights, and maps.
Designed by architect Christian Heinrich Grosch, the Observatory is a three-story building done in a neoclassical style (like most of the university buildings from that time). The focal point of the building is an ornately-decorated rotunda that led to the observation rooms.
The Observatory was recently refurbished to commemorate the University of Oslo’s 200th anniversary and is now adorned with instruments and decor from Hansteen’s time. Much of the 19th-century technology was reinstated, such as the mechanically-controlled opening roof in the Astronomical Tower (below).
The Meridian Room
Perhaps the most important room in the history of the Observatory, the Meridian Room is where Hansteen determined the longitude of Kristiania through fastidious observations of the North Star and collaboration with the Royal Society in London. Initially, he intended for the 0-degree (meridian) line to pass through this room; but the Englishmen beat him by having it in Greenwich (on the outskirts of London) instead. Can you imagine having KMT instead of GMT? 😮
As the city expanded, the Observatory no longer stands unobstructed on the hilltop. Though it is no longer used for looking at the stars, the Observatory serves as a significant historical and architectural site in Norway’s past journey to become a sovereign nation.