Ever since I settled in Nice, I have been hoping to visit the Observatory. So many times I looked at this small white ball overhanging on the Mont Gros hill from my balcony and think of this quote by Seneca : “Non est ad astra mollis e terris via“… Or, to be honest, I think that what a view must the astronauts have from their working place. And when I learned that it was built by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera, I thought that I should take a closer look at it, and it was worth a visit indeed.
The Côte d’Azur Observatory (OCA) has a remarkable architectural and scientific heritage. It was built in 1881 at an altitude of 1200 feet, and was listed as a historical monument in 1994. It is an internationally recognized center for research in Earth Sciences and Astronomy as nowadays, the buildings designed by Charles Garnier combine with precision mechanics, high performance computing centers and virtual observatories.
The Nice Observatory was built in 1878 with the financial support of its sponsor Raphael-Louis Bischoffsheim. The chief architects of the structure were Charles Garnier and Gustave Eiffel.
It is one of the few observatories with old equipment still working, that is open to the public. Despite some light pollution from the city, astronomy research is still possible here.
Indeed, the architectural excellence of the observatory also lies in its technical features which provides the flexibility required by its chief mission, namely, to provide the most comprehensive and exhilarating stargazing experiences to the public.
During the visit, your guide will be a scientist and he will give you an overview of the history of the sites, an introduction to astronomy and information of the research that is being done here such as double stars, gravity waves, satellites for the European spatial agency, the Matisse project…
You will see different buildings, the main observatory that you can see from Nice is the great cupola/ Grand equatorial:
The base structure evokes the techniques employed in the construction of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, as ordered by the sponsor, also featuring God Râ.
The impressive rotating 100-tons dome (designed by Garnier) overtops the entire edifice. At the moment of its opening, the Observatoire de Nice was fitted with the largest astronomical telescope in the world, which amounted to 76 meters in length. The cupola which shelters the telescope is the work of Gustave Eiffel.
the Hunting house and its sundial with the elliptic curve of the time equation to correct it.
Pavillon Henri Chrétien
The Charlois Cupola (and window by Daniel De Buren)
The equatorial curved telescope and its shelter
With its four sites (Mont Gros and Valrose in Nice, Sophia Antipolis, and the Plateau de Calern observatory), OCA is one of 25 French astronomical observatories responsible for the continuous and systematic collection of observational data on the Earth and the Universe. Its role is to explore, understand and transfer knowledge about Earth sciences and astronomy, be it in astrophysics, geosciences, or related sciences such as mechanics, signal processing, or optics.
How to get there: Grande Corniche / Boulevard de l’Observatoire (a detailed map is available in the booking confirmation)
Bus N°84 from Riquier station
Visits on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 14h45, upon prior booking only
Price: €6 for adults
duration: 2 hours (wear confy shoes)
Languages: the guided tour for individuals is in French but information panels are available in english and italian.
> Register here: www.oca.eu/fr/upolavisites