City Observatory opens to the Public
If you’ve been wondering what’s going on at the City Observatory on Calton Hill, you’ll soon be able to see for yourself: this iconic building will celebrate heritage, art and architecture when opening to the public this summer, 200 years after the foundation stone was laid in 1818 and nearly two years after a £4M restoration and building project began!
Driven by the contemporary visual arts organisation, Collective, this project has restored the City Observatory to the exact designs and drawings of 19th century architect William Playfair.
It has also created a wonderful opportunity to see the Observatory’s famous telescopes on display, including the Fraunhofer-Repsold Transit Telescope dating from 1831, known for its role in setting the clocks for the Edinburgh Time Ball on the Nelson Monument and the One O’Clock Gun from 1852-94.
The project’s cluster of buildings, neatly brought together by their perimeter wall, will be known as Collective and will include two new builds. You will enjoy stunning views from the new restaurant, built using a cantilever so that it overhangs Calton Hill, and then The Hillside will provide unique exhibition and gallery space for emerging artists, together with the older, green-roofed City Dome from 1895.
Collective will open with a specially commissioned series of artists who have all been invited to respond to the Observatory and Calton Hill, both symbols of the Scottish Enlightenment, when intellectual and scientific accomplishments came thick and fast.
As well as enjoying the art and architecture, you may want to learn more about the history of the site, which you can do by joining one of the regular site tours that will be on offer. So keep a look out for the opening date and take some time to enjoy this wonderful mix … with free entry!
A little Observatory History
From its early days, a key function of the City Observatory was to provide accurate time for Edinburgh and Leith. Observations made using the Fraunhofer-Repsold Transit Telescope to track the passing of stars over the meridian line were used to set a clock known as the ‘Politician’s Clock’ because it had two faces.
One face could be viewed by sailors from the Port of Leith who would walk up Calton Hill to set their ship’s chronometers. In this way the Observatory underpinned the expansion of trade and Empire – accurate timing being crucial to maritime navigation. The clock was eventually superseded by a time-ball on top of the Nelson monument and the One O Clock gun at Edinburgh Castle, which were both directly linked to the Observatory.
Looking after Edinburgh’s Acropolis: Calton Hill
Edinburgh World Heritage is an independent charity with a mission to connect people to their heritage and ensure that Edinburgh’s UNESCO status remains a positive force in the city. It also helps to conserve the city’s built environment, and over the last 40 years has completed over 1500 projects, restored 30 historic monuments, transformed 50 shopfronts and directly impacted over 10,000 Edinburgh residents!
In 2007 the charity embarked on the ambitious Twelve Monuments Project, which saw improvements made to both the National Monument, inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, and the turned-up telescope of Nelson Monument, among others. With that project completed, attention then turned to this Calton Hill landmark. EWH has provided funding and conservation expertise to ensure that the City Observatory has been sympathetically restored using traditional building techniques and materials.
Old Royal High School
Elsewhere on Calton Hill is the impressive Old Royal High School, designed by Thomas Hamilton and certainly part of how the city earned the nickname ‘The Athens of the North’. Plans to develop a luxury hotel here could threaten Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site status, and there is currently a crowdfunding campaign to help the organisations involved in trying to prevent this – any support would be appreciated.
Calton Hill is just one part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site which we need to conserve, enhance and promote for future generations to enjoy.