The Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona

Founded in 1764

The Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona was founded on 18 January 1764 with the name "Physico-Mathematical Conference". As with so many other institutions, it was political events which provided the impetus for its creation.

Philip V became King of Spain in November 1700. Catalonia embarked on lengthy negotiations and, having ensured that it retained all its privileges, accepted Philip as king. However there was a rival claimant to the Spanish throne, namely Archduke Charles who claimed the throne as Charles III of Spain. The result of the two competing claims was the Spanish War of Succession (1701-1714). In 1706 Catalonia broke its allegiance to Philip and recognised Charles as King of Spain. Victory in the Spanish War of Succession by Philip became complete when Barcelona surrendered on 11 September 1714. Philip then moved to punish Catalonia and in 1716 abolished much of Catalonia's independent structure. In particular, he suppressed all Catalan universities and, in 1717, the University of Barcelona moved to Cervera. Having lost its university, Barcelona moved to set up some other institutions to play the academic and scientific role which it had filled. The "Physico-Mathematical Conference" was one such institution.

One of the people who actively worked towards founding an academy in Barcelona was the mathematician Tomàs Credà (1715-1791). He was a Jesuit and published Jesuiticae Philosophiae Theses (1753) which deals with issues of physics, mathematics, and astronomy. Credà studied the French translation of Colin Maclaurin's Treatise of fluxions before moving to Barcelona in 1757 where he taught at the Jesuit College of Cordelles until 1764. He obtained a grant from the city of Barcelona to publish two mathematics texts, Liciones de Matemática (1758) and Arithmética y Algebra para el uso de la clase (1758). He wrote to Thomas Simpson seeking advice on which authors to read to give him the most up-to-date ideas about the many different areas of mathematics. He was the first person lecturing on the new Newtonian theories in Catalonia and Spain, and his efforts to support the "Physico-Mathematical Conference" led to the academy having a strong interest in astronomy from its very beginning.

Charles, the fifth son of Philip V, became king of Spain in 1759 taking the title Charles III. He had been king of Naples (as Charles IV) and of Sicily (as Charles V) but resigned these kingdoms in favour of his son when he became king of Spain. On 17 December 1765, Charles III signed a Royal Charter making the "Physico-Mathematical Conference" the "Royal Physics Conference". It now had an official role in that the king consulted it on anything relating to the Principality of Catalonia. Five years later it changed its name again when Charles III signed another Royal Charter, dated 14 October 1770, giving it the name of the Royal Academy of Natural Sciences and Arts of Barcelona.

In 1786 Charles III was still king of Spain; in fact he continued in that role until his death in 1788. He signed an order awarding the Academy a permanent Royal Grant on the 29 September 1786 which gave the Academy a central site in Barcelona on La Rambla. The present building for the Academy is on this site but it was not built until 100 years after the Academy first owned the site. It [2]:-
... was built between 1883 and 1894. It is a pre-modernistic building designed by the architect and academician Josep Domènech i Estapà and is crowned with two domed towers. The paintings in the main hall, representing allegories of the scientific sections of the Academy, are works of the well known painter Fèlix Mestres. In the entrance hall, called the Hall of Clocks, there is an exceptional collection of clocks. Apart from those associated with the normal Hourly Service, there is a monumental astronomical clock built by Billeter (1869) that displays the relative positions of the Sun, the Earth, the Moon - as well as the planets - together with the sunrise and sunset times. It also has local time dials ...
In fact it was while this building was being erected that a Royal Order dated 7 December1887 gave the Academy its current name of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona. Shortly before this, the Academy had been given an official role in standardising local Barcelona time [2];-
In 1886, in order to standardize the local time and disseminate it throughout the city of Barcelona, the Academy accepted the mission to define the time in Barcelona and in 1891 that time was declared the 'official time' for the City. In 1895, the City Council declared the Academy also responsible of the accuracy of the clocks of the Cathedral and the City Hall and, later on, other clocks around the city. The time was set by means of astronomical observations until 1926 from a meridian telescope installed in one of the domes of the Academy at La Rambla.
The building on La Rambla was not the only one designed for the Academy by Domènech i Estapà at this time, for he also designed the Fabra Observatory which was sited in the Tibidabo with work commencing in 1902. Money to build the Observatory came from a legacy of Camil Fabra i Fontanills, Marquis of Alella, which explains its name. It was opened on the 7 April 1904 by King Alfonso XIII [2]:-
One of the important achievements of the Fabra Observatory has been the discovery by its first Director, Josep Comas i Solà, of small celestial bodies. Comas discovered eleven small planets, which were given names such as Barcelona, Gothlandia (allegorical for Catalonia), Hispania ... and two comets, one of which, the Comas Solà, is periodical. One crater on the Moon and another on Mars are also named for Comas. Furthermore, Comas was the first person to observe and describe the presence of an atmosphere on Titan, the largest satellite of Saturn, on the night of 13 August 1907. The result was published in 'Astronomische Nachrichten' and it took forty years to be confirmed by spectroscopic methods.
The Academy has other properties in addition to those just mentioned [1]:-
The rest of the properties of the Academy are the Library, the Archive, the art collection and the old instrument collection, the clock collection, the astronomical, meteorological and seismological functional equipment, the historical collection of astronomical, meteorological and seismological instrumentation and observations. The seismological detection station of Fontmartina, in the Montseny, on land property of the Provincial Council of Barcelona, and the astronomical observation station in the Montsec mountain are also part of the inheritance of the Academy. The Archive and the Library contain a documentary collection of high historical value of nearly three centuries. The Library, with more than a hundred thousand volumes, is one of the most important libraries in Spain in relation to the science of the second half of the 18th century.
The Academy's website [3] states:-
According to the Articles of the Institution, the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona is an association of scholars in science and its applications, restricted by the number and selection of its members, aiming at promoting and becoming a reference for the Catalan culture and society in regard to pure and applied sciences and arts. The Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona has been working to divulge scientific and technical knowledge to the city for two and a half centuries.
The present Academy has 75 full members and, in addition, elected corresponding members. It is divided into seven section, Section 1 being the Mathematics and Astronomy section with 12 full members. The current 12 members have interests in Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Probability, Astronomy, Robotics and Astrophysics.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. History of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona.
  2. R Pascual, The Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona, Europhysics News (2013).
  3. Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona website.

Last Updated September 2018