Edinburgh Trip Part One - Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.

Although I have visited Edinburgh many times, this was the first time I managed to visit the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. Located very close to Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile, this well-known Edinburgh landmark is a very popular and well visited attraction. It's stone tower and bright white Obscura Room has been a focal point of the Edinburgh skyline for many years.

View of the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, Edinburgh.

A Short History

In 1827, Maria Theresa Short embarked on a journey from the West Indies in the heart of the Caribbean to Edinburgh to claim and inheritance. Whether or not it was hers to claim, is up for debate. When she arrived in Scotland's capital city, she claimed to be the daughter of the prominent scientific instrument maker Thomas Short. In the 1770's Thomas Short erected a building on the city's Carlton Hill where the people of Edinburgh could she all his collection after paying an admission fee. Nearly 40 years after his death, Maria wanted to claim his 'Great Telescope' as her inheritance.

After a great deal of opposition, Maria got what she wanted. In 1835 Maria erected a stone and wooden structure close to the site Thomas' former observatory. Opening her new observatory to the public to at 9pm each night, it soon became a popular attraction. After nearly 20 years of success Maria was about to start the process of creating the attraction we know today.

In 1852 Maria and her Husband, Robert Henderson bought the town house which had been once owned by the Ramsays of Dalhousie. With some financial assistance in the form of Sponsors, Maria started on a program of building work which would add two extra floors and a dome to house a Camera Obscura. Once completed it was opened to the public as Short's Observatory and Museum of Science and Art and was a great success. After Maria's death in 1869, her husband Robert continued to run the observatory. If you look closely at the tower you can still see the original lettering of Maria's sign still on the stonework of the building today.

In 1892 the great Scottish ecologist, sociologist and urban planner, Patrick Geddes, bought the tower and in doing so renamed it the 'Outlook Tower.' Geddes used the tower in a different way from that of Short. He wanted to use the Camera Obscura to show visitors the relationship the city of Edinburgh has with the countryside which surrounds it.

From the 1940's to the early 1980's it was owned by the University of Edinburgh before it was sold on to the current owners who have developed it into the tourist attraction it is today.

How does the Camera Obscura work?

At the very top of the tower there is the Obscura Room, this is the white structure that you as you are walking along the Royal Mile. In the centre of this room there is a large white wooden table with a concave surface, this is where everyone gathers around to see the Camera Obscura at work. Located around 6.5 meters above the table is a large tube which protrudes out the top of the roof. At the top of this tube there is a mirror which allows light in, this mirror can be adjusted in order to change the view. Inside the tube there is a series of three lenses which the light then passes through before projecting onto the table below.

View of the Oscura Room at the top of the tower.

Included in your admission fee is a ticket to a show in the Obscura Room where a guide uses the Camera Obscura to take you on a tour of Edinburgh, pointing out local attractions and telling you lots of interesting facts of city. To our modern 21st century eyes it is a really wonderful and exciting experience, but for Victorians it must have been a total visual marvel.

Today, over its several floors, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions there are many interactive exhibits, displays and objects of visual and kinetic art. If you ever have the chance to  visit, please do. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Whether you are young or old, you will have a thrilling and extremely entertaining time.

For more information please visit the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions website at www.camera-obscura.co.uk.

I Hope you enjoyed the first blog post about my recent trip to Edinburgh, next time I will tell you  you all about my visit the world famous Edinburgh Castle.

Thanks for reading!

Hugh at ReClick Photo.