World Heritage #1187 – Struve Geodetic Arc

Last modified 12.04.2024 | Published 14.08.2020Norway, Norway's Heritage Sites, World Heritage Sites

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Never heard of the Struve Geodetic Arc? Well, consider how big the Earth is and what shape it has. These were questions the Russian astronomer Struve asked in the first half of the 19th century. He conducted the first accurate measurement of our planet. We may remember this accomplishment by visiting any of string of triangulation positions across 10 countries.

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes over a thousand properties. They have outstanding universal value and are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Official facts

  • Countries: Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Sweden, Ukraine
  • Date of Inscription: 2005
  • Category: Cultural

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s (short) description of site no. 1187:

The Struve Arc is a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through 10 countries and over 2,820 km. These are points of a survey, carried out between 1816 and 1855 by the astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve, which represented the first accurate measuring of a long segment of a meridian. This helped to establish the exact size and shape of the planet and marked an important step in the development of earth sciences and topographic mapping.

It is an extraordinary example of scientific collaboration among scientists from different countries, and of collaboration between monarchs for a scientific cause. The original arc consisted of 258 main triangles with 265 main station points. The listed site includes 34 of the original station points, with different markings, i.e. a drilled hole in rock, iron cross, cairns, or built obelisks.

My visit

This map shows all 34 original station points. Click on each marker for a bit more information about it.

At Struve’s time there were fewer authorities to convince in setting up the string of stations. In the 19th century the Russian Empire controlled most of the territory and the rest belonged to Sweden. It is a long way from Northern Norway to the Black Sea and the number of markings were impressive.

In 2020 I visited the northernmost of UNESCO’s selection of original station points, in Hammerfest, Norway. This is one of the most accessible points on the Struve Geodetic Arc too. It is located in the middle of a town. Many other places, including three additional places in Norway, are quite difficult to reach. 

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