Hidden behind a pocket-sized door in a doll's house-like building in the sleepy Dutch town of Franeker is a room so unique that even a King was star-struck. Emma Becque and Isabel Bronts explore the extraordinary world created by wool weaver turned astronomer, Eise Eisinga. 



Eise Eisinga and his family all lived within the confinements of this one-room home © Isabel Bronts 


The sleepy town of Franeker has an unexpected secret. Undisturbed historic houses line the water-locked cobbled streets where a city hall and bakery sit stoically awaiting visitors - only the ringing bell from the occasional bicycle signals someone is in town.

Yet, hidden behind a pocket-sized door is a room so unique that even a King was star-struck. Those lucky enough to pass through the Friesland province can enter a world where the cosmos is within reach and the stars align.

From 1774 to 1781, thanks to doomsday whispers, Eise Eisinga, a humble wool comber, embarked on a mission sparked by erupting anxieties. His creation of a fully functioning planetarium in his one-room home sought to quell locals’ fears sparked by astrological predictions, and illuminate the complexities of the solar system.


The 1800s kitchen was fuelled with wood and coal, making the cast iron plate hot enough for cooking © Isabel Bronts


Amid widespread trepidation about an upcoming planetary combustion, Eisinga's anarchist project to construct a detailed solar system model emerged as a beacon of rationality and wonder in the 1800s—a scientific example of bridging the gap between science and superstition upon the backdrop of artistic splendour.

An unexpected genius, Eise Eisinga left formal education at 12 and found solace and purpose in the wool-combing trade under his father's tutelage. Yet, beyond weaving yarns, astronomy orbited his thoughts. He spent his teenage youth authoring scholarly works on sundials and celestial mechanics, marking the beginning of his journey from labourer to esteemed amateur astronomer.


Drawing from artisanal talent in the wool industry, Eisinga etched and painted the dates and times to scale in gold and black above his cupboard bed © Isabel Bronts


Blinded by the stars, Eise did not foresee the seven-year wait, near bankruptcy and upcoming banishment that the planetarium would bestow. Today, within the slimline 18th-century building, a maze of skinny corridors and bowing beams pave the way toward Eise Eisinga's humble one-room abode. Flashes of Prussian blue through the windows, visible from the entryway, offer a teaser for the magical theatre that awaits.

Ducking beneath the door, visitors enter the jewellery box room. The space, ablaze with flecked gold, forms the miniature planets and their circumferencing solar system. In extension to the planet's orbit are intricately drawn lunar dials, rising and setting sun clocks, moon phases, and zodiac positions. Amid the mural ceiling, traditional Delft tiles cradle a kitchen crafted with a cast iron plate, a marker of life once lived. Hidden behind gingham curtains, a small cupboard bed, the resting place of Eise and his family, is just as striking as the iridescent golden planets.

Tradition and memory linger in this historic home. They speak of a life where evenings stretched into years, all dedicated to the meticulous crafting of a celestial masterpiece, which, when completed, must have created a magical experience, sleeping beneath the stars. The ticking humm of the planetarium's internal workings (adjusted by specialists every leap year) summons visitors to the minute attic, where another astounding creation lives: a working pendulum clock.

Bound by a labyrinth of cobwebbed oak disks supported by wooden rollers and equipped with elliptical gears and sprockets carved from timbre, this work of art was made entirely by hand. Each tick controls the intricate movement of his to-scale solar system, with Saturn taking 29 years and 164 days to orbit around the ceiling-bound sun. The magic of the mechanics captured the imagination of the first King of The Netherlands, William I, Prince of Orange. So struck was he by this celestial craftsmanship that he purchased the planetarium, ensuring the artisan's universe would remain a state treasure. In exchange, a fortuitous deal whereby Eise could live in his planetarium rent-free as long as he gave visitors a guided tour.

Eise’s spirit remains omnipresent today. Sitting prominently across from the planetarium, the Frankener City Hall exhibits a large-scale portrait by Willem Bartel van der Kooi (1827) of the astronomer in pride of place cascaded above the fireplace. Eise Eisinga died aged 84. He was buried in Dronrijp, where his boyhood dreams manifested, a stone's throw from the home where he mapped his solar system.

Upon his death, his son, Jacobus, took care of the planetarium for over 30 years, followed by his daughter until 1922. The saying, 'catch a falling star and put it in your pocket' is certainly true in the tale of Eise Eisanga, whose home is a testament to his belief and determination. Never fading is the twinkling glow of the planets, so gracefully hand painted all those years ago, as a gift for us today.

The Eise Eisinga Planetarium in Franeker, the Netherlands, is open each week from Tuesday to Saturday between 10am and 5pm |


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