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Expedition seeks Štefánik’s towers

SLOVAK statesman Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who helped establish the first state of Czechs and Slovaks after the end of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, was also an avid traveller, discoverer and astronomer. On Vava’u – one of the islands that are part of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean – Štefánik constructed two concrete towers that were used to observe a total eclipse of the sun on April 28, 1911.

SLOVAK statesman Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who helped establish the first state of Czechs and Slovaks after the end of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, was also an avid traveller, discoverer and astronomer. On Vava’u – one of the islands that are part of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean – Štefánik constructed two concrete towers that were used to observe a total eclipse of the sun on April 28, 1911.

A hundred years later a Slovak expedition led by Jaroslav Oršula departed for Vava’u to research Štefánik’s time on the island and to try to acquire one of the towers, which are the only three-dimensional remains of the astronomer’s work in the southern hemisphere. The expedition – called Štefánik/Vava’u 1911-2011 – was organised by the IAMES sports club and departed Bratislava on October 18. It is expected to return on November 9.

The expedition’s expert, František Kele, explained the reason for the trip to the TASR newswire. “My basic idea is to pay tribute to this important Slovak personality, to find out the condition of the towers, and then to try to persuade local authorities to allow one of them to be moved to Slovakia some time in the future.”

Kele added that the expedition also wants to document the structures so that a replica can be made if an original tower cannot be brought to Slovakia.

Other members of the expedition are Milan Šimunič, a doctor and photographer, and Michal Vasilko Kele and Milan Supek, serving as cameraman and assistant cameraman respectively.


František Kele was the first Slovak in recent times to see the two towers, in 1994, and was also the last Slovak to examine them, in 1997.

“When I last saw them, one of them was insufficiently secured and had started to lean over; maybe they are on the ground – it is not clear what condition we will find them in,” Kele told the TASR newswire, adding that “they [the residents] might have crushed them to dust and used them in the foundations of some houses – we really don’t know anything about their fate”.

The concrete towers built by Štefánik were first seen by members of the AntArktis expedition in 1994 on what is called Paris Hill overlooking the town of Neiafu, the administrative centre of Vava’u, the SITA newswire wrote. One of the columns bore a board commemorating Štefánik’s life and work in English and Slovak.


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