Astronomical Instruments of Tycho Brahe and Taqi al-Din

by FSTC Published on: 26th April 2005

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Tycho Brahe "was a brilliant astronomer and scientist of his time, and has had a big significance on the development of astronomy, science in general, and our view of the world" has been influenced by and built upon the achievements of Muslims astronomers such as Taqi al-Din

Sextant (mushabbaha bi’l-manâtiq) of Taqî al-Din

He “was a brilliant astronomer and scientist of his time, and has had a big significance on the development of astronomy, science in general, and our view of the world”[2]. Yet the Danish Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), who built two observatories with one being among the largest of his time, has been influenced by and built upon the achievements of two observatories from the Muslim world: the observatory of Ulugh Beg at Samarkand (built 1420-1437) and the Istanbul Observatory in the Ottoman Empire (completed in 1577 but destroyed in 1580)[3]. The latter was built by the Ottoman Empire’s head astronomer, Taqi al-Din Mohammed ibn Ma’ruf. The rest of this short article will focus on Taqi al-Din’s observatory and compare his professional achievements to that of Tycho Brahe thus illustrating the similarities between the instruments they used which were vital for the development of astronomy.

Four hundred years ago, the Istanbul Observatory was founded by Taqî al-din al-Râsid at Tophane, on the European side of the Bosporus, under the sponsorship of Sultan Murad III (1574-1595).

An unknown author gives the following information about the plan of its construction in Istanbul,

“Thus during the glorious days of our Great King (Murad III) with the help of the Grand-vizier (Soqullu Muhammad Pasha) the foundation of a new observatory was being organised……..”

“While he (Sa’d al-din) was making the necessary arrangements [when] suddenly our Master Taqî al-din, who was the greatest scientist on earth, came to Istanbul to enter the felicitous Court of the King. When he was presented to the Emperor and received by him, was promoted and decorated with a large fief, because he was truly cognizant of sciences. Also the necessary expenses for his work were given from the Imperial treasury. In order to start the work with the help of God, [a] European Castle (Frenk Sarayi) above the great and prosperous buildings of Tophane in Istanbul, may God increase its beautiful buildings, was assigned and the activities were started. To put in verse the quality of the necessary instruments in the Imperial poetry firstly this text depending the statements of Taqî al-din, is composed and named Alât al Rasâdiya li Zîj-i Shâhin-shâhîya.”[4]

It is stated in other sources, on the other hand, that it was Taqî al-din who took the initiative in this matter and that he suggested to Sultan Murad III to establish an observatory. Taqî al-din wished to have an observatory founded in Istanbul and the Grand-vizier Soqullu Muhammad Pasha and Khwaja Sa’d al-din became interested in the matter and supported him. He prepared a report to present to the Sultan which explained the necessity of founding a new observatory. In this report Taqî al-din explained that the available astronomical tables had grown out-dated and new tables based on fresh observations had to be compiled.[5]

Sextant of Tycho Brahe

Recent research has shown that this observatory had been one of the largest of the observatories built in the 16th century and was comparable to Tycho Brahe’s Uroniborg (16th century) as well as Ulug Bey’s Samarqand (15th century) and Nâsir al-din Tûsî’s Maragha (13th century).

In this short article I am going to dwell on only the first part, that is to say the instruments built in this institution.

The reputation of the observatory depends on first and foremost the preciseness of its instruments, secondly on the importance of the work done within; and then on the quality of the astronomers connected to it.

The available sources that give information about the instruments constructed in this observatory are:

· Alât-i Rasadîya li Zîj-i Shahinshâhîya (Astronomical instruments for the Zij of Emperor).[6]

· Sidra Muntahâ al afkâr of Taqî al-din[7]

· Âlâ al-din al Mansûr’s Poem.[8]

Generally, observational instruments in an observatory can be divided into two groups: fixed and portable. In enumerating the instruments, Taqî al-din does not say anything concerning the portable instruments.

Tycho Brahe built an observatory under the sponsorship of King Frederic II of Denmark in 1576. He equipped this observatory with the best possible instruments of his time and succeeded in becoming one of the great astronomers of all history by building these refined instruments, making accurate observations and helping the discoveries of Kepler.

Recent research has shown that there is an exact identity between most of the instruments of Tycho Brahe’s and Taqî al-din’s observatories.

Tycho Brahe and Taqî al-din were not satisfied with the instruments of the previous astronomers. They had new discoveries to use. These were the sextant, the wooden quadrant and astronomical clock.

The Mushabbaha bi’l manâtiq is composed of three rulers. Two of them are attached as the rulers of triquetrum. An arc is attached at the end of one of the rulers. This instrument is used to determine the distances between the stars.[9] Taqî al-din’s mushabbaha bi’l manâtiq and Tycho Brahe’s sextant should be considered among the great achievements of the 16th century.

[1] Source from:



[4] Sevim Tekeli, “Mechul Bir Yazarin Istanbul Rasathanesinin Aletlerinin Tasvirini Veren “Alât-i Rasadiye Li Zic-i Sehinsahiye” Adli Makalesi”. Arastirma, Vol. I, p. 91.

[5] Nawîzâda ibn Yahyâ Âtâî, Dhayl al-Shaqaiq. Vol. I, 1268 H.P. 268.

[6] S. Tekeli, “Mechul Bir yazarin…..”. Arastirma, Vol. I. p. 71-122.

[7] Sevim Tekeli, “Takiyuddin’in Sidret ul-Munteha’sinda Aletler Bahsi”, Belleten, Vol. 25. p. 213-38.

[8] Aydin Sayili, “Alâ al-din al Mansur’s Poems on the Istanbul Observatory”, Belleten, Vol. 20, 1956.

[9] Sevim Tekeli. Takiyuddin’in Sidret ul Muntehasinda…. 224.

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