Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Paris & the Paris Observatory

September 2-4, 2005

The Paris Observatory pre-dates Greenwich.  It was completed in 1672, three years before King Charles II bank-rolled the Greenwich project with £500 from the sale of duff gunpowder.  A case of keeping up with the Bourbons?  The first Director at Paris was Giovanni Cassini (later Jean Dominique Cassini) or “ Cassini I” enticed to Paris from Italy by thrusting money into his hand, the first example of the ‘brain drain’?  Probably not.   J-D Cassini I started an entire dynasty of Directors at Paris.  He was followed by his son (Jacques), grandson (Caesar-Francois), and great-grandson (Jean-Dominique). 

Suzanne Debarbat took us directly up to the Cassini Room on the third floor where the Paris meridian is sumptuously marked across the floor.

The immediate impression of the observatory interior is its grandeur and luxury.  The Cassini room is clad in marble and the meridian is marked in marble and beautiful polished stone.  This is a clear case of the Sun King at work.  It makes the Greenwich Observatory look every inch the £500 hovel that it is by comparison.


The party studies the Paris meridian marked in marble in the Cassini room

The Paris observatory had always been in the vanguard of the attack on the Longitude problem.  Cassini I and Jean Picard were pioneers in developing the use of the eclipses of Jupiter’s moons to find longitude.  Louis XIV said of Picard’s grand survey of France that he had lost more land to his astronomers than to his enemies.


Photo Pat Wainwright

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