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 The great Danish naked-eye astronomer, nobleman and writer was an adherent of the Copernican system of cosmic organization.  He was known for his accurate astronomical and planetary observations that affected the important work of Johannes Kepler that resulted in the three laws of planetary motion.  He had a brass prosthetic nose that he was forced to wear with an adhesive as a result of damage to his bridge  caused by a duel to settle an argument.

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Photo: Joel Levinson, taken in the Copenhagen City Hall

King Frederick II granted Tycho an estate on the island of Hven to create a research institute.  Frederick also provided the funds to build a palace with research facilities called Uraniborg (named after Urania, the muse of astronomy).   Construction started in 1576 and completed around 1580  The design was inspired by Andrea Palladio, the great Venetian architect.  Uraniborg was one of the first buildings to reflect the influence of Italian renaissance architecture.  The plan set the palace and research facilities in the center of a square, fenced garden.


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An account in Wikipedia states that, “The plan and façade of the building, and also the plan of the surrounding gardens, are designed on grids, with proportions that Tycho carefully specified. These proportions may have been intended to make Uraniborg function as an astrological talisman, benefitting the health of its occupants by increasing the influences of the sun and Jupiter.…A large wall, 75 meters on a side and 5.5 meters high, was planned to surround Uraniborg, but was never built; instead, a high earth mound was constructed. That mound has lasted until modern times, being the only remnant of the observatory still in place.”   Shortly after Brahe’s death this costly complex was destroyed in part due to losing support from the new King Christian IV of Denmark.

Tycho Instrument Sextant 16

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Diagonal struts appeared in Brahe’s sextants used in his sightings.  There is a correspondence of sorts between the struts and the geometry in the parterres of his gardens described below, but the aesthetic/psychological connection is speculative.  Most important is the fact that rather than entrance walkways leading to the palace starting at the midpoint of each boundary wall, Brahe designed diagonal walkways leading in from the corners as true diagonals.  Perhaps this was inspired by a new angular geometry emerging during the Renaissance.  The diagonal theme is echoed in some of the parterres that were designed for decorative reasons and also to supply herbs and the like for cooking and scientific studies.  The building was rotated 45º within the walled compound so that the entrance walkways lead from the corner gatehouses to the building entrances where students, assistants (most significantly his daughter), royalty, friends and family entered and exited.  The complex is precisely oriented to the compass points.


Courtesy Uraniborg


The gardens are currently being restored on the site, which is on the island of Sven off the cost of southern Sweden but originally under Danish hegemony.

Joel Levinson


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