After touring the main observatory building, Dimitrios leads our mixed group of Americans, Brits, Spaniards, Russians and Indians up to Pnyx Hill to encounter a more modern Gautier telescope. Assembled here in 1902, this 8 tonne beast has a 40cm refractor for observing far-flung stars, planets and galaxies.
“This telescope was the most advanced in Greece until the 1950s and for those who know what they’re doing, it’s a powerful research tool,” Dimitrios explains. “It was used for scientific research until the 1980s, including mapping the surface of Mars.”
Eventually though, light pollution made this central Athens location unviable and the National Observatory’s research is now conducted from state-of-the art telescopes on Mount Helmos near Kalavrita and in Kryoneri near Corinth, both in the Peloponnese.
Watching the roof peel back to reveal the night sky above our heads though is quite the experience—like a steampunk James Bond villain’s lair. For such an enormous piece of machinery it seems strange that the eyepiece is so small. But once you peer through it, you’ll forget that your feet are still planted on planet Earth.