World's Oldest Functioning Planetarium

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.


While traveling in Eastern Eastern and Central Europe last year I stumbled on the globe museum in Vienna, Austria. It had some beautiful orreries and tellurions (an astronomical instrument depicting the movement of the earth around the sun) but none of them came close to the impressiveness of the Eisinga Planetarium

Aside from a plaque that reads, "Planetarium," one would hardly be able to tell that inside this seemingly cozy, Dutch house lives the oldest, accurate moving model of our solar system. What is harder to believe still is that the model, built in 1781, is still functioning to this day!

Eise Eisinga, a wood carver and amateur astronomer living in Franeker, Netherlands, decided to build the model in 1774 after a mass panic occurred among the Dutch following an alignment of the planets earlier that year. People were terrified that a plantary collision was imminent. Eisinga hoped his model would help prove that nothing of the sort was going to happen.

The model was built from oak wood, nine weights, a pendulum clock, and over 10,000 hand-forged nails. Each planet continues to orbit the Sun at an appropriate speed (i.e. Earth, once a year, and Saturn, every 29 years). The museum is also home to a variety of old astronomical instruments as well as modern day astronomy equipment.

More on the planetarium here, on the globe museum here, and to the Atlas category "Astounding Timepieces" here.



  1. Google turned up some more pics here: The author even threw in an Open Source editorial: “Software builders of nowadays could have learned a lesson from Eise, because he thought centuries ahead. The planetarium still works correctly because he left us drawings, explanations and a list of all things that should never be forgotten. ”

    Pretty sweet. I want to go there next time I’m in NL.

  2. Vienna is the capital of Austria. Franeker is a city in the Netherlands. Both countries are part of Western Europe.

  3. Isn’t Vienna more central Europe? (With the Hungarian influence and all)

    Franeker is almost Northern Europe, being in Frisia, which is a province in the Netherlands (and also in Germany, the Frisian people are trans national with a fairly distinct culture and language.)

    Anyway, I’ve been to the Planetarium in Franeker twice, and can attest to its awesomeness. More gears and levers than your average steampunk can handle.

  4. beautiful.
    maybe instead of watching the stars you should look sometimes at some normal map: Austria is central europe (mitteleuropa)

  5. Eise Eisinga built his planetarium to show the citizens of Franeker that the universe has a mechanical nature, but the thing itself is pure magic! Did everybody notice the big-ass pendulum over his bed in the background?

  6. Yes Vienna is in Central Europe. East Europe begins in Ukraine: between is Slovakia and Hungary.

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