Camera Obscura

Castlehill, Top of the Royal Mile

The Camera Obscura at the top of the Royal Mile


Edinburgh's Camerae Obscurae

Portobello, Calton Hill and Castlehill

A camera obscura is essentially a dark room with a small aperture (or lens) through which light passes from the outside to create an image inside the room.

Edinburgh has had at least three camerae obscurae to entertain its visitors over the years.  They have been at:

Portobello Pier:  giving a panorama of the Firth of Forth and the coast of Fife.  The pier opened in 1871 and closed in 1917.  I don't know for what period the camera obscura operated.

Calton Hill:  giving a panoramic view around Edinburgh and Leith.  This was replaced by the Camera Obscura at Castlehill.  It opened in 1835 and closed in 1850.

Castlehill:  Tenements, built in 1622 were converted in 1850 by Maria Short who previously operated a camera obscura on Calton Hill, to become 'Maria Short's Observatory of Science and Art'.  It opened in 1853.

The building was taken over in 1892 by Patrick Geddes and named the  'Outlook Tower'.  It has been under its present ownership since 1977 and is now known as the 'Camera Obscura'.

It is situated, in a prominent position, at the top of the Royal Mile, close to the Castle Esplanade.  The building is  and is floodlit in light of changing colours in the evenings.


Castlehill Camera Obscura


The Camera Obscura at Castlehill is housed in a 17th century building.  The building was enlarged in 1853 to house Maria Short's Camera Obscura that was situated on Calton Hill until it closed in 1850.

The building is now open to the public:

-  9.30am to 6.00pm:  April, May, June, September, October

-  9.30am to 7.30pm:  July and August

- 10.00am to 5.00pm:   other months.


Castlehill Camera Obscura


The main attraction is to see the views through the camera obscura, shown in the tower at the top of the building. 

These views can be spectacular, especially on a bright day, extending to the horizon in all directions, and zooming in to the Royal Mile (and the Castle Esplanade when it is not covered in scaffolding and seating for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, each summer).

Around the outside of the viewing room for the camera obscura is a terrace, with telescopes and notices giving more details of what can be seen.

Panoramic View of Edinburgh from the Camera Obscura  -  May 2004


Castlehill Camera Obscura


The Camera Obscura building includes several permanent  exhibits, well worth a visit.  These are to be found in rooms off the staircase leading to the main attraction.  There are:

-  Magic Gallery:  Illusions

-  Light Fantastic:  Holograms

-  Edinburgh Vision: including

- old stereo views showing the building with its name 'Short's Observatory' on the outside.

- stereo views of Edinburgh, including some by Yerbury and Begbie

-  old Edinburgh views by GW Wilson and others.

- a montage of a biplane flying over Edinburgh by Captain Alfred Buckham and other views of Edinburgh.

- pinhole photographs of Edinburgh by Derek Drage, taken using biscuit tins, sweet tins, Coca Cola cans, etc.

Update  -  2007


The 'Camera Obscura' has now acquired the building next door, 'Dr Guthrie's Ragged School' - a school that was used for the education of poor children from the 1850s until 1920 and has since become derelict.

The school is on three floors.  The 'Camera Obscura' intends to develop the building to include an illusions theme, including a topsy-turvy room and a mirror maze.

Work is expected to begin in late 2007 and take 9 to 18 months.

Edinburgh Evening News:  May 1, 2007,  p.28.


Camera Obscura  -  Photos and Map



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