The old town of Franeker, in the north of the Netherlands, is so small that by just walking into town, we find the planetarium we are looking for right away. A small two-story house is marked Planetarium on the outside, but the entrance is found in an adjacent building on the left. We have a look at the exhibition with various drawings and small astronomical instruments until we hear that the explanation about the history of this place is about to start in the Planetarium Room, and we hurry to the ground level room in the small building we have seen from the outside. We look up the light blue ceiling in awe: we see the sun, earth, and several planets represented. Even before the guide starts to talk, we realize that we are in a historic place.
We hear that Eise Eisinga, who lived from 1744 to 1828, followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a wool carder. Even though he was not allowed to go to school, he published a book about astronomy as a teenager, and turned out to be very gifted in both astronomy and mathematics which he managed to master through self-education (always working as a wool carder). According to legend, he started building his planetarium when there were claims that the Earth would be destroyed in a conjunction of Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter - to show people that these claims were false. It seems, though, that he started construction before these claims became public. In any case, it took him 7 years to complete this masterwork in the ceiling of the room in which he lived, ate, and slept with his wife and three kids. When the planetarium was finished, Uranus was discovered: likewise, Neptune was discovered 18 years after Eisinga died. With the current scale of one millimetre to a million kilometres, his house would have had to be four times wider to accommodate those two planets.
Apart from the planets, which have been moving since 1781, making it the oldest still operational planetarium of the world, there are several dials on the bedside of the room, and the wall, showing the sun and moonrise and -fall, the cycles of the moon, the current zodiac sign, the day of week, and more. After the explanations, it is time to climb the steep wooden red stairs to see the mechanism driving this impressive work: more than 10,000 handmade nails are used in small and large wheels which in turn are kept moving by a simple Frisian pendulum clock. Eisinga left a precise explanation of the planetarium in his will, so we still know how to operate it, and how to keep it running, and do timely maintenance. The small museum holds several astronomical instruments and paintings. We also visit the wool carding room in which Eisinga worked. When we are outside again, we note that the street is named Eise Eisinga street - a well-deserved recognition of a great man who followed his passion and who left a unique legacy for future generations.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Eise Eisinga Planetarium.
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