Eisinga Planetarium

Eisinga Planetarium
Photo by Els Slots.

The Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker holds a mechanical model of the Solar System that contributed to the dissemination of astronomical knowledge to a wider audience.

Dating from the late 18th century, it is the oldest continuously operating orrery in the world realistically showing all planets known at the time. The model mechanically is in fine condition, still works perfectly and continues to be used for educational purposes.

Community Perspective: the highlight and OUV of this small site lies in the living room literally converted into a fully working solar system model; its workings will be shown to you during a 15-minute explanation after a small group has gathered. Do check availability beforehand on the official website.

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Malta - 05-May-22 -

Eisinga Planetarium by Clyde

I visited this tWHS in April 2022. I must say that the Netherlands in general really has a treasure trove of quaint well-presented little museums. I truly can't see how this little gem, dubbed as the world's oldest working planetarium, won't make it on the WH list just like the splendid Plantin Moretus, Ir. D.F. Woudagemaal or the Rietveld Schröder House.

The facade of the Eise Eisinga house in Franeker, Friesland, was built on a canal well before 1768 (this date can be seen on the stone of the facade but it's actually the year in which the facade was replaced). Overall the facade is quite plain with the usual gable roof. The nearby coffee shop is much more ornate with a lovely Art Nouveau interior. However, the highlight and OUV of this tWHS lies mainly in the living room literally converted into a fully working solar system model with the sun in the centre and the planets known at that time circling around it. The outer three planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are missing as they had not been discovered by the time the model was built.

Entrance now costs 6 euros and whenever there are enough people, a lovely knowledgable old lady closes the living room door, fetches a long bamboo stick, and gives a brief explanation on the planetarium or orrery in Dutch, English or German. I revisited the room more than a couple of times practically listening to the explanation in three languages as I wanted to take photos without people in the way and also because I wanted to observe the incredible little details on the ceiling. The mechanism of the planetarium is visible upstairs but be careful not to bump your head if you're tall. What is incredible, is that Eise Eisinga did all this as a hobby! He was a full-time worker in his father's woolcombing business, and he also picked up his father's interests in astronomy and mathematics. He was so inquistive that at the age of 15 his self-study enabled hime to write a 650 page book on mathematics. Some original sheets are on display in the museum.

In his free time, Eise Eisinga put his knowledge of astronomy and mathematics to good use in May 1774 when panic erupted among the local people due to a doomsday prediction made by Eelco Alta. Eise had the knowledge it took to build a model of the solar system in his living room. His aim was to show that there is no reason for such fears. Once he had generated his initial concept for the model, and thanks to his knowledge from the woolcombing mills, it took him only 7 years to build it. To fit the model of the solar system into his living room, Eisinga had to reduce it in scale by a factor of one trillion. This meant that one millimetre on his ceiling represents one million kilometres. In addition to the solar system itself, with slits sawed in the ceiling with metal pins passing through them, he introduced all kinds of dials that could be used to derive real-time information about the solar system such as a date indicator, dials for the day of the week and the year, lunar dials, a celestial chart, zodiac signs, . He also fitted a cupboard bed, a wardrobe (make sure to have a look at the different original weights hanging from the mechanism upstairs) and an oven, literally to be able to live in his living room.

The balls used to represent the planets and the moons are gilded on one side to represent the illumination of the sun, and painted black on the other to represent night. Although the distances between the planets are shown at the correct scale, the balls representing the planets themselves are not; if built to scale, the Earth would be so small as to be invisible to the naked eye. In reality, the planets move in orbits that are not circles but ellipses with the sun in the centre of each one. Thus, for each planet Eisinga marked its farthest point away from the sun by the letters VP (verste punt, farthest point) and the closest point to the sun by the letters NP (nearest point). The figures indicated with the white circles drawn around the orbit of each planet indicate the planet's position in relationship to the ecliptic plane. This means that by looking at the celing, in theory one could tell where to look in the sky to find a certain planet and whether it is above or below the ecliptic plane, hence visible or not according to where you're looking from and when.

Equally exciting is the planetarium mechanism upstairs, just above the living room ceiling. All the planets, pointers and clocks are driven by an extensive system of wooden disks with around 6,000 hand-wrought iron pins serving as cogs. This entire mechanism is controlled by a pendulum clock with a single weight (shortened by Eisinga to avoid having a pendulum in the cupboard bed and upsetting his wife!). This clockwork, however, merely regulates the speed at which the mechanism turns. The power to turn it comes from 8 weights connected to the main axles that eliminate almost all resistance. The pendulum swings at a rate of 80 times a minute. Over the course of a year, the pendulum has to be adjusted somewhat due to temperature fluctuations; but Eisinga had it all thought through as he even left notes for future caretakers on how to maintain and operate the planetarium mechanism.

All in all I really enjoyed my visit and would also recommend both the coffee shop next door and the museum's small cafeteria and terrace. I combined it with a visit to the Drents Museum (to finally see the whole Frida collection on loan from the Dolores Almeda Museum in Mexico City) and a visit the 3 Dutch Colonies of Benevolence of Veenhuizen, Frederiksoord and Wilhelminaoord in Drenthe.

Daniel C-Hazard

Germany - 11-Sep-20 -

Eisinga Planetarium by Daniel Chazad

In human history, there have always been individuals who were ahead of their time. Eise Eisinga was one of those. Actually a wool comber, he was also an amateur astronomer (and what an astronomer he was!).

In 1774, another Dutch amateur astronomer (and self-proclaimed preacher), Eelco Alta, predicted the end of the world, believing a rare conjunction of the Moon and the then-known four planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter would inevitably lead to a crash of the celestial bodies and the destruction of the Earth.

To invalidate these arguments, autodidact and highly gifted Eisinga started to build an orrery in his living room (and finished seven years later), what is today the oldest working model of the solar system and the largest mechanical planetarium in the world. Its accuracy and steadiness are admirable. The modeled planets move imperceptibly and complete one circumlocution per real-time orbit. He individually forged each of the 10,000 nails for the gearing teeth, and he painted and gilded his work in a decorative and informative way. In 1818, King William I of the Netherlands and Prince Frederik visited the orrery and bought it for the Dutch state. Later, it was donated to the city of Franeker.

As Els and Zoë have already written, this brilliant work definitely belongs on the World Heritage List. Apparently, the admission will be decided in 2023. I am sure it will fulfill the three application criteria, amongst them "masterpiece of human creative genius". Here in this community, there is 100% consensus regarding the inscription to date.

6 euros could hardly be better invested than in the visit of this gem.

A few words about Franeker: This friendly center of Frisian cultural, which was home to the second oldest university of the Netherlands, has some more sights to offer. A picturesque town hall is right across from the planetarium. Medieval Martinikerk with a wooden central nave is a short walk away. An open playing field called Sjûkelân for the traditional Frisian sport of Kaatsen ("Frisian Handball") is also located in the city center. Across from it, one can visit a museum about this sport (I skipped it). For 8.50 euros, the visit to the planetarium can be combined with a visit to either this "Kaatsmuseum" or to the "Museum Martena" (the Franeker city museum).

And a visit to Franeker can easily be combined with a visit to the West Frisian Islands, Vlieland being my personal favorite.

Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 20-Nov-19 -

Eisinga Planetarium by Zoë Sheng

The northern town of Franeker is a typical dutch affair, cobble streets, canals, people parking AT the side of the canals (I wonder how many cars have dropped in due to bad parking) and there is free parking just outside of town with only a few minutes walk to the planetarium.

This should already be on the WH list, ages and ages ago. It has a lot more going than "Defense Lines" or a canal ring, or Schokland obviously, and I'm not directly saying these are bad sites but the planetarium has a huge unique clockwork going that, flawed a little because it does not account for leap years, still works today, as well a super interesting museum padding it. I wish to have a wide-angle camera just for the planet room, and I would like to spend more time just seeing the gears working - fascinating.

Although you can browse around by yourself it really helps to attend the Dutch/English talk where you can ask questions. Overall if you are open for learning about astronomy it can take 2 hours to get through the li'l house.


Els Slots

The Netherlands - 07-Oct-11 -

Eisinga Planetarium by Els Slots

After having visited all Dutch Tentative Sites on European soil, I believe that this is the strongest proposal. Its subject, astronomy explained to the general public, is pretty unique. Also, it can fill a gap in the List as the history of science is currently deemed underrepresented. Especially the long regional and cultural tradition of the 'lay scholar' is praised here.

The Planetarium lies in the Frisian town of Franeker. This is a prominent city in the history of the Netherlands: it held the second oldest university. It has a marvellous city hall for example, and many other fine old buildings.

Eise Eisinga was an autodidact who built this small Planetarium or Orrery in 1781. It is the oldest of its kind that still works. He constructed his model of the galaxy on the ceiling of his living room. It is a sky-blue wooden structure, with moving elements steared by an intricate mechanical clockwork structure on the attic above. He received a lot of visitors in his time who came to see this, both prominents and schoolchildren.

His former house now is a little museum. The entrance fee is 4.5 EUR. A fifteen minute explanation of the structure is included. It's really fascinating to see how it all works: how the planets move relative to each other, but also what time it is, which date, which year. Eisinga also left behind an entire manual about how it all functions, including instructions for future caretakers.

Site Info

Full Name
Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker
Unesco ID
Structure - Science and Education

Site History

2023 Name change

Upon inscription, at the suggestion of ICOMOS: from "Koninklijk Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Royal Eise Eisinga Planetarium)" to "Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker"

2023 Inscribed


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Eisinga Planetarium