The Tartu Observatory was founded at the Imperial University of Dorpat as it was reopened in 1802. The observatory building was completed in 1810 on the Toome hill in Dorpat. The instruments were installed in 1814 by von Struve who subsequently started observations. In 1824, a 9" Fraunhoferrefractor arrived, the largest achromatic telescope in the world at the time. When von Struve began assembling his Geodetic Arc in 1816, the doorstep of the observatory became its first point.
In 1946 the renamed Tartu Observatory was separated from the university and subjected to the Estonian Academy of Sciences. The authorities started to look for the new observational base in 1950. A patch of land on the Tõravere hill was assigned for the purpose and in 1958 construction began. By 1963, the new observatory building was completed, part of the astronomers from the old observatory moved in, and the 50 cm reflector telescope had first light. In 1964, an international conference was held and the Tartu Observatory was renamed von Struve Observatory. In 1974 the 1.5 metre telescope become operational. The name of the observatory was reverted to Tartu Observatory in 1995. In 1998, a 0.6 metre reflector was installed, the last major instrument update for today. The old observatory building now mainly serves as a museum and is a part of a public science education centre.