Struve Geodetic Arc (2005)

Back to index

The Struve Arc is a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through ten 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 establish the exact size and shape of our 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. 

Russia 1964. Death centenary of Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (1793-1864). 

So far it has been impossible to find any stamps featuring Struve's Geodetic Arc, only stamps from the locations, but with no relation to the property as such. Instead I have found the following information about Struve, and the Soviet stamp commemorating his death centenary. 

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve was born in Altona, then part of Denmark, in what is now Germany, to Jacob Struve (1755-1841). He was to become the second of an entire family of astronomers through five generations. To avoid military service, Struve's father, Jacob, moved from Napoleonic Germany to Latvia, then the Livonian province of Imperial Russia. 

  • Russia 1964. Death centenary of Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (1793-1864). 
In 1808 Struve entered the University of Tartu (Estonia), where he first studied philology, but soon turned his attention to astronomy. From 1813 to 1820 he taught at the university and observed at Dorpat Observatory in Tartu, occupied with research on double stars and geodesy until 1839, when he founded and became director of the new Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg. His Danish-German name was at the same changed to Vasily Yakovlevich Struve, which also appears on the above stamp [V. Ya. Struve in Cyrillic characters]. 

The countries included in the World Heritage Property of "Struve's Geodetic Arc" are: Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Sweden, and Ukraine. I have been informed that some (but not all) of these countries are preparing release of stamps in 2006 and later, pertaining to "their part" of the property. 

The Latvian locations of the points for Struve Geodetic Arc  are in the Region of Jekabpils, and Region of Madona. The point in Jekabpils town resides on the left bank side of river Daugava in the park named after Struve. The Struve Geodetic Arc point is marked by cross on a small grounded concrete post. There is a memorial stone, too.

The point of Sestu-kalns is located at the hill (Ziestu kalns), which rises up to 217 m relative to sea level. In Latvia there are 16 (of 265) points of Struve arc, only 2 of them are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Property. 

Latvia 2005. Jekabpils. Coat of Arms. 

Latvia 1996. Madona. Coat of Arms. 

The image below left is a Latvian personalized stamp, issued 2007, designed by the Latvian citizen Leonards Naglis, who has sent me the scan. The actual size of the stamp is 42 x 35 mm, volume printed - 100 (5 sheets), printer - Österreichische Staatsdruckerei GmbH, Austria. Yellowish paper. The stamp is valid for inland letters up to 20 grams. The design contains three images related to the Latvian part of Struve Geodetic Arc. Mr. Naglis explains about each photograph: 

Top right: Small photo of Krustpils castle (location: right bank side of river Daugava in Jēkabpils). Struve performed measurements from tower of the castle in 1816-1819 (see background, left side of photo). Latvian Post in 2007 has issued a stamp. 

Below left: Photo of mark of Struve point at Ziestukalns (figures "1904" indicate a year, when some job was done here).

Below right: Photo of a memorial stone from the Struve Arc point located in Struve park, Jēkabpils town. Jēkabpils was the place where Sruve finished his 3°35' meridian arc measurements of 1822-1827 period in area between Hogland island and Jēkabpils. This stone commemorates the success of 3°35' arc measurements. 

The text from the stone reads in Latvian: 
Struves astron. punkts 
Novērots 1826.g. 
Atjaunots 1931.g.
Struve Astronomical Point
Observation year 1826
Restauration year 1931
The text on the stamp design, next to the UNESCO logo, reads 
"Struve Arc" ("Struves loks" in Latvian).

Latvia 2007. World Cultural Heritage. Personalized stamp pertaining to Struves Arc, Latvia.

Latvia 2007. Krustpils Castle, from the series of Palaces of Latvia.

In its justification for inscription the UNESCO states that Struve's Geodetic Arc is the first accurate measuring of a long segment of a meridian, helping in the establishment of the exact size and shape of the world exhibits an important step in the development of earth sciences. It is also an extraordinary example for interchange of human values in the form of scientific collaboration among scientists from different countries. It is at the same time an example for collaboration between monarchs of different powers, for a scientific cause.

The Struve Geodetic Arc is undoubtedly an outstanding example of technological ensemble – presenting the triangulation points of the measuring of the meridian, being the non movable and non tangible part of the measuring technology.

The measuring of the arc and its results are directly associated with men wondering about his world, its shape and size. It is linked with Sir Isaac Newton's theory that the world is not an exact sphere.

Sources and links:

Many thanks to Mr. Leonards Naglis (Latvia) for all help and support. 

Other World Cultural Heritage Sites in Latvia (on this web site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Latvia-section, for further information about the individual properties.

Back to index

Revised 12 sep 2007  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
All Rights Reserved