This peculiar shaped building resembling a spaceship on its launch pad is located at the end of the promenade in the Maritime Quarter of Swansea, on the coast of southern Wales. This building was once an observatory called the Marina Towers Observatory, also known as the Swansea Observatory and Tower of the Ecliptic, of the Swansea Astronomical Society, but is now abandoned. The sea-facing white tower with a domed roof contained the actual observatory, and once housed the largest optical astronomical telescope in Wales. The cylindrical orange tower on the north is the access tower and contains a spiral staircase with open walkways linking the structures at each upper level.
Photo credit: Sloman/Wikimedia
The Marina Towers Observatory was commissioned and built by the Swansea City Council in 1988. It was leased to the Swansea Astronomical Society who had the observatory fitted with a fine 20" Shafer-Maksutov telescope, which was the largest in Wales and the second largest of its kind in the world. The telescope rotated about a 15-feet diameter fiberglass dome of the observatory, which was placed on a trough of saline water and oil enabling the dome to be rotated effortlessly with a single finger.
The building’s unique shape is due to the intention of the builders to keep the staircase separate from the observatory building to prevent vibration, from people using the staircase, to be transferred to the observatory building. The bridges are connected to the observatory building but physically detached from the staircase building by a small gap.
The staircase building houses a model of the solar system suspended from a wire in the center stairwell. Each step on the stairwell represents a distance of 46 million miles on the journey from the sun’s disk at the ground level to Pluto at the entrance to the observatory dome at the top of the building, which is capped by a magnificent stained glass roof designed by internationally-renowned artist David Pearl. Information on each of the planet is engraved on the wall plats and can be read as one ascended the staircase.
Inside the staircase building. Photo credit: www.explore-gower.co.uk
The Marina Towers Observatory was officially opened on 24 September 1993, and the building was named “The Tower of the Ecliptic”. The observatory building housed a craft workshop, exhibition space, lecture halls and a public viewing gallery. The Swansea Astronomical Society ran public events and observation sessions, and the tower became a focal point of educational activity and opportunity for Swansea’s residents. Unfortunately, when the City Council increased rent of the building in 2009, the Astronomical Society packed their bags and left.
In 2013, local businessman Noah Redfern bought the property with the intention of turning it into a tourist attraction. The plan is to turn the ground floor and first floor of the observatory into a café, while the top two floors will be used for holiday accommodation. The building will also be extended as part of the renovation.
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