Another legacy of Jesuit enterprise in Shanghai (like the adjacent Sheshan Basilica), the Astronomical Observatory sits atop West Sheshan Hill, the highest geological point in Shanghai. It’s now a museum documenting the history of astronomy and science in this part of the world.
Relocated here from Xujiahui at the turn of the twentieth century (the first such observatory stood next to yet another Jesuit edifice, that of St Ignatius Cathedral), it was the centerpiece of a network of more than 70 such stations around the Asia-Pacific region; and housed what was once the largest telescope in East Asia.
That telescope is the focal piece of today’s museum; alongside images and equipment from the past hundred years. Most evocative of all are the pictures of Halley’s Comet: Sheshan is one of very few observatories in the world to have observed the comet in both 1910 and 1986.
The Observatory’s significance declined in the latter half of the twentieth century, though it remained operational until very recently. Sadly, visibility,even this far from downtown, is no longer what it once was: in 2008 the Shanghai Meterological Bureau upped sticks for Anji, in neighboring Zhejiang province, where the skies remain clearer.