The Paris Observatory: a Scientific Utopia
On July 16, 1789, the Count of Cassini, director of the Paris Observatory, was worried: a large crowd was pressing up against its doors, persuaded that the building hid immense reserves of gunpowder as well as ammunition. The people wanted to arm and defend themselves in case the army suppressed the Revolution. However, the cellars of this building, completed in 1667, were empty. The insurgents left. Six years later, in 1795, the site became one of the centerpieces of the new Republic’s scientific policy. Attached to the Office of Longitudes, it was used as a place to store, conserve and loan out “all the astronomical instruments that belong to the Nation.” It also had to test the Navy’s instruments to make sure they worked properly. If the Observatory reflects the faith in scientific progress, its mission was also very political: the French Republic was fighting the British monarchy on the high seas.