Kazan Observatory to turn into open-air museum

Mintimer Shaimiyev hopes that it will become the fourth UNESCO protected site from Tatarstan

A monument to the observatory’s authors — Dmitry Dubyago and Vasily Engelhardt — was placed in Oktyabrsky settlement, Zelenodolsk District, in honour of the 120th anniversary of the opening of Kazan University’s Astronomic Observatory. As early as 2014, with the help of Kazan Federal University’s Rector Ilshat Gafurov and Tatarstan’s first President Mintimer Shaimiyev, the scientists’ last wish became a reality: they were buried together. For this purpose, Engelhardt’s ashes had to be delivered from Germany. So now their sculptures sit next to each other on a bench. Gafurov named this day a milestone, while Shaimiyev added that a huge job was already done to include the university observatory as well as Bolgar, Sviyazhsk and the Kazan Kremlin in the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. A complex of modern venues opened there foreseeing tourists and the younger generation’s interest: Astropark, a hotel for 60 people and an educational centre with a conference hall.

“Morality is the most important thing now”

Kazan Federal University’s Rector Ilshat Gafurov opened the event. He called this day a milestone. There were two reasons for this: the celebration of the 120th anniversary of the creation of the suburban observatory and the opening of a monument to the university’s former Rector Dmitry Dubyago and his close friend and astronomer Vasily Engelhardt. The latter, as Gafurov stressed, did his best for the observatory to appear.

“Several years ago, on this site, we laid the foundation stone to the monument to these professors of our university with our first President Mintimer Shaimiyev. All this happened after the scientists’ last will became a reality, which was reburial. Today Engelhardt rests together with his friend in a vault,” he noted with satisfaction. Gafurov admitted that they hoped to open the monument earlier, but “life always makes its own amendments.”

State Adviser to the Republic of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiyev also stressed that not only two outstanding scientists but also lifelong friends were the heroes of the occasion. And addressing students whose number was big among the audience focused on the moral aspect:

“Think of it, they became friends, understood they were single-minded people and wanted to be buried together after they died in their will.”

The first president of the republic paid tribute to the job done to save the memory and heritage of these scientists:

“We did it. We thank the German side too. When we sent them a letter, we were given Engelhardt’s body back according to the will. Perhaps, everybody knows that his funeral took place in the magnificent, reconstructed Sviyazhsk Cathedral whose construction was once financed by a Russian tsar.”

Shaimiyev called the circumstance that it became possible to make the scientists’ last will a reality a moral obligation:

“Morality is the most important thing now. It is what we need. We already lacked this component, but unfortunately, as the development of society and modernity shows, we lose it more,” he said.

“Astronomy is an Eastern business”

According to Shaimiyev, Dubyago and Engelhardt once showed everybody an amazing example, and he thinks that this “should be written down in the history of our university.”

The observatory was equipped with the best equipment of those times. By the way, a big part of the equipment has survived — one can see the history of astronomy first-hand in a local museum.

Shaimiyev reminded the audience that the Renaissance foundation he chairs does a lot to restore the republic’s historical, physical and intangible heritage. So he said that nowadays they “get down to business” in the Kazan observatory. Everything became possible “thanks to the stubborn, big and not always convenient organiser,” the Tatarstan state adviser said probably citing Ilshat Gafurov.

Then, a piece of cloth hiding the monument was taken off. And the world saw the scientists sitting on a bench and decently looking at their descendants. The monument was made by Artur Margaryan, an artist from Saint Petersburg, a member of the Russian Union of Artists. The author of the work told Realnoe Vremya that the monument was made of composite, while the draft was made for four months.

“The observatory should be a popular site, not a transit point”

On the stage, the KFU rector noted that the observatory gradually gained a new appearance and new birth.

“Life develops fast enough, especially it has developed fast in the last years. And after obtaining the status of the federal university, we came to think how we saw the future of this territory,” he explained. According to Gafurov himself, today “young people, schoolchildren and students should leave this place with satisfaction.” In other words, he sees this territory as a new centre making science popular, that will attract people who will probably devote their life to studying near and outer space.

Though to love astronomy one doesn’t necessarily have to be an astronomer, the host of the event acknowledged. The KFU rector said that an educational centre that will have a canteen and a small hotel for just 60 people also opened here. This is designed for the youth. The university hopes that students and schoolchildren can come here on excursions and spend “a night with stars.” In the future, as Gafurov promises, the observatory is going to become an open-air museum, while all the amenities will “stay for centuries.” Shaimiyev, in turn, added that it is necessary to think about developing tourism here:

“Now we occupy one of the first places in tourism, thanks to the restoration of historical sites. And the observatory should be a popular site, not a transit point,” he emphasised.

“How important it is to make good things!”

Rector Dubyago’s granddaughter Inga, an old lady, developed Shaimiyev’s thought:

“Did Engelhardt think that his small observatory, as he said, would turn into a palace? If he didn’t present his legacy to us, we would remember him as an ordinary scientist. But here his name is immortal. How important it is to make good things!”

Head of Zelenodolsk District Mikhail Afanasyev is convinced that the territory of the observatory will become a growth point and hopes it will become possible to add it to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. At least because such authoritative people as the first Tatarstan president and KFU rector with his energy are dealing with this issue.

“We will support and pray, and I am sure this will finally happen,” he said. In any case, he reminded the audience, Tatarstan will have four UNESCO sites.

Afanasyev also dreams of a big number of tourists here:

“Do you know what happened after the Renaissance foundation did the job on the island town of Sviyazhsk?” the head of the municipality asked a question and answered it himself: “Today it is the second most crowded site after the Kazan Kremlin: 700,000 people visit it a year. We have the Raifa Men’s Monastery. I believe that the observatory will also become a popular site for tourists. And here different activities can develop. The Star Night, as the record has already said, is one of them. Why not? Perhaps, a namesake festival will appear one day. The aura is special here.”

Relay to the future

Russian Vice Finance Minister Alexey Lavrov, who comes from this area, also attended the ceremony and delivered a speech about the two scientists’ friendship:

“When they created an observatory together in 1901, they probably didn’t yet think about breakthroughs in space, that their dear Russia would become the first space power. And it is highly likely that Sergey Korolyov who lived a part of his life in Kazan was in the observatory, saw these four cedars, which are age mates of the astronomic observatory. And who knows, maybe this is why he chose Gagarin’s call sign as Cedar? And today we continue this relay. This year, it has been 10 years since the creation of the beginning of construction of this amazing observatory, Russia’s unique and one of the world’s three sites on the territory of the operating astronomic observatory. This is a relay to the future,” he gave the audience a touching speech.

While representative of the space industry that had a lot of guests at the celebration, first Vice Chairman of the Central Council of the Veterans Union of Russia’s Space Forces, Lieutenant General Vladimir Vlasyuk called all the people attending the event dear comrades.

“Precisely your hard work and effort helped to create that theoretical and huge astronomic foundation on which iur country went into space,” he didn’t belittle Kazan’s merits.

Then the guests saw the venues, including Astropark that has an astronaut’s spacesuit that was in space among other exhibits. Also, attendees of the event watched an interactive presentation of solar planets with a huge hemispherical screen, which Gafurov immediately offered to make it spherical, and an exhibition of minerals and much more.

Lyubov Shebalova. Photo: tatarstan.ru