As you step outside through a tiny door in the dome of the National Observatory, you see the glittering night-time lights of Athens spread out before you. The Parthenon, illuminated, seems to hover in front of you and, above it all, the sky is full of stars. It’s honestly hard to decide whether to look up or down.
You’re standing on the Sinas Building, a structure originally built to measure local time, on the Hill of the Nymphs. “At midday, the time ball would fall,” says our guide, astrophysicist Dimitrios Tsimpidas, “signalling the city’s cathedral to ring its bells, letting all of Athens know that it was noon.”
The walk up to the observatory from Thiseio is well worth the effort; there’s so much to see and learn on the observatory’s guided tours, including the history of the building, which was designed by Danish architect Theophil Hansen in 1842. It is cruciform in shape; each of the ground-floor rooms (which house rare books and instruments) indicates a cardinal direction. In 1874, Julius Schmidt used the observatory telescope to create the first-ever detailed map of the moon.
Tours also include the late-19th century Doridis telescope, standing on its own further up the hill, with which you can observe the constellations visible on any given night.
This text was first published as part of “Beat the Heat”, an article published in Greece Is Athens, Summer 2019 Edition.