The Europa Nostra’s European Heritage Congress took place in Athens in June 2013, bringing together Europa Nostra members and representatives of the ever-growing cultural heritage movement from all over Europe. This Congress marked the 50thanniversary of Europa Nostra’s continuous action in favour of Europe’s cultural heritage. In particular, in June 15th 2013, Europa Nostra celebrated its 50 years of operation in a great event at the national Observatory of Athens. Simultaneously, the Mariolopoulos-Kanaginis Foundation, which is a member of Europa Nostra, celebrated its 20thanniversary at the same place and time. Hence, in a special event these two aniversaries were celebrated in front of the entrance of the historical Sina’s building in the gardens of NOA at Thission with a magnificent view of Athens. NOA was chosen by the organizers to also host the formal dinner event, as the awarded by the Commission of Europa Nostra historic building of Sina is a monument of Greek and European cultural heritage. The event was attended by more than 500 distinguished guests (approximately 200 from Europe) among them, the EU Commissioner for culture and education Mrs Androulla Vassiliou, the President of Europa Nostra, maestro Placido Domingo, the Prince of Denmark, elite members of the Board of Europa Nostra and of the Board of NOA, Academicians, Professors and many friends of NOA. The President of NOA, Prof. K. Tsinganos, addressed the audience of the guests, with a short speech referring to the three main periods of NOA:
(1) the archaic period, 5th century B.C., wherein the Athenian astronomer Meton operated his Heliotropion at the adjacent Hill of Pnyx,
(2) the early days of modern NOA, wherein the second director of NOA, Jules Schmidt created the celebrated topographic map of the Moon, with more than 30.000 craters, and finally
(3) the modern present era wherein NOA operates at the Chelmos Observatory the second largest telescope in continental Europe, the modern 2.3 meters telescope Aristarchos.
Also greetings were addressed by the President of the Mariolopoulos-Kanaginis foundation, Academician prof. Christos Zerefos and the President of Europa Nostra, maestro Placido Domingo. The President of NOA donated a copy of the map of the Moon by J. Schmidt to prof. C. Zerefos and maestro Placido Domingo. The Con Grazia Quartet played works by Mozart, Vivaldi, Pachebel, Piazzola, Gardel, Chatzidakis and Theodorakis.
In conclusion, the whole event left to our valuable guests excellent impressions and memories for the Observatory as they had the chance to also visit the Sina’s Museum and the Dorodis Telescope in the Hill of Pnyx.
The NOA President praised the staff of NOA for their invaluable contribution for the event.
The speech of Professor Kanaris Tsinganos, President of NOA.
Excellencies, Dear Guests,
I welcome you tonight at the grounds of the National Observatory of Athens.
In Astronomy, we often take snapshots of time. For example, we say that out of the total age of the Universe – 13.7 billion years - the Sun and the Earth were formed about 4.6 billion years ago, the appearance of human predecessors happened 2.5 million years ago. Similarly, out of this Observatory’s long history, perhaps the longest of all Observatories on Earth, I will choose 3 periods :
First, the Early period. We are in the 5th Century BC. Athens is at its greatest peak, the golden age of Perikles. In nearby Pnyka, the Athenian orators argue in the Athenian Assembly (Ekklisia tou Dimou). There, you can still see today, the foundations of Meton's Heliotropion. It is the oldest known astronomical observatory and the first phase of the Observatory of Athens.
There, Meton and his assistant Euktimon performed several astronomical measurements that led to the eponymous 19-year cycle. The Metonic cycle he introduced in 432 BC into the lunisolar Attic calendar, a calendar that appears in the Antikythera Mechanism. During Meton’s cycle of 19 years, or 235 lunar months, the phases of the Moon repeat exactly at the same dates, a discovery that was announced during the Olympic Games. In The Birds (Ὄρνιθες), a comedy by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, the astronomer Meton arrives to help Peisthetairos (Trustyfriend) to help him design the city-in-the-sky Νεφελοκοκκυγία (Cloudcuckooland) according to geometrical principles.
PISTHETAIROS : For heaven’s sake, who are you?
METON [shocked] : Who am I? I’m Meton — famous throughout Greece and Colonus.
PISTHETAIROS : What are these things you’ve got?
METON : Rulers to measure air. You see, the air is, in its totality,
shaped like a domed pot cover. Thus, from up above I’ll lay my ruler, thus, set my compass inside there. You see?
PISTHETAIROS : I don’t get it.
METON : With this straight ruler here I measure this, so that your circle here becomes a square—and right in the middle there we have a market place, with straight highways proceeding to the centre, like a star, which, although circular, shines forth straight beams in all directions.
PISTHETAIROS: This man’s a Thales !
Second, the middle period, 1842, about 170 years ago. The Vienna-based Greek entrepreneur, banker and diplomat Georgios Sinas funds the astronomical observatory on this Hill of the Nymphs, a magnificent cross-shaped building resembling a classical Greek temple, and constructed from materials recalling ancient Athens. One of the most famous directors of this Observatory was Julius Schmidt, who presided over the Observatory for 26 years, from 1858 to 1884. His most famous brilliant achievement has been the Topographic Map of the Moon, "Chaptre der Gebirge des Mondes" with about 33.000 details of the visible surface of the Moon, published in Berlin. In an area of two meters diameter, consisting of 5x5=25 parts and representing the visible surface of the Moon, he drew about 33.000 lunar details, craters, as he observed them with the 16 cm Ploessl telescope. In his 1865 science fiction classic, From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne refers to this map of the Great Schmidt of Athens,as he calls Julius Schmidt.
Finally we arrive to this year, 2013. The National Observatory of Athens, with its 3 Institutes - Institute of Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications and Remote Sensing - Institute of Environmental Research and Sustainable Development and Institute of Geodynamics - plays a vital role in modern European research, participating and leading several competitive EC projects in Astronomy, Environmental Science and Seismology. This year marks the operation and first publication by the modern Aristarchos telescope, at 2340 m, on mount Helmos in the Peloponnesse. Aristarchos is the 2nd largest European telescope, part of the OPTICON European network consisting of 24 European telescopes. With its 2.3 m mirror it can see all the way to 2/3 of the radius of the Universe, at 23rd magnitude galaxies which emitted their light about 9 billion light years ago. Thus, Meton’s tradition continues in Athens after 2500 years and the National Observatory of Athens is an important milestone in the history of European astronomy, seismology and environmental science; it is a guiding star under the stars. In 2010 the NOA won a European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Awards for the restoration and conservation that had converted NOA into a science museum.