What The Dickins: A Tale Of Edinburgh City

Exciting Plans for the Observatory by Collective

The Collective Calton Hill Edinburgh

If you’ve been up on Calton Hill during the past few months you might’ve noticed that there is some restoration work going on at the top. Collective, a contemporary visual arts organisation established in 1984, started redeveloping the A-listed City Observatory complex on Calton Hill in November 2016. We caught up with their Head of Marketing and Communications, Eric Hildrew, to hear all about their plans to restore the Observatory and build a new gallery for contemporary art.

What is the history of the City Observatory on Calton Hill?

The City Observatory was designed by William Henry Playfair in 1818. Neo-classical buildings were all the rage in Edinburgh (the ‘Athens of the North’) and the Observatory reflected the style of a Greek temple. Originally one of its main functions was observing the movement of stars to provide an accurate time service for the City and the docks in Leith. A few years later, to save the sailors climbing up the hill, a timeball was built on top of the neighbouring Nelson Monument which dropped at precisely one o clock every day (and still does!)

LM_Edinburgh City Observarory -078

How did the vision for the site come about?

Collective has been engaging people with contemporary art in Edinburgh since 1984 but we first discovered the old Observatory several years ago whilst working on Calton Hill. By then the building was no longer being used as an observatory and our eyes were opened to the huge potential of the site. Our vision is to create a new kind of observatory, which brings people together to look and think about art, heritage and many other subjects. Working with the Council, we moved up here in 2013 and began fundraising to fully re-develop the site.

Can you tell us about what the site will include when it’s completed?

The site forms a walled compound on the summit of Calton Hill and alongside the City Observatory itself features a number of other buildings, including the beautiful City Dome, which we’ve already restored as a unique gallery space. The Observatory is being restored to Playfair’s original designs and its historic telescopes will be on display. In front of the Observatory a new gallery space is being built into the hillside with a viewing platform on top. We’re also building a new restaurant on the edge of the hill with possibly the best view in Edinburgh!


When will the project be finished?

Work began in November 2016 and we plan to open early in 2018. This will be the first time the Observatory has been freely open to the public in its history and as well as cementing Calton Hill’s reputation as a must-see destination for visitors to Edinburgh, we hope to bring local residents back up here more often too. A changing programme of exhibitions and events will mean there’s always something new to see and do.

Have you raised all the money you need to complete the project?

We’ve worked hard to raise the majority of the funding needed to restore the site and are incredibly grateful to all of the funders and individuals who have donated so far. But we still need support to reach our final fundraising target. You can read more about our plans and find out how to help at www.collectivegallery.net/observatory

Stay on Calton Hill

The Photographer's Studio, Rock House (Edinburgh)

Here at Dickins we have many options for you if you’re visiting Edinburgh and would like to stay near Calton Hill right in the centre of the city. One option is the historical and utterly stylish Rock House right on Calton Hill, only a stone’s throw away from the Observatory. It comprises of three homes – Rock House (sleeps 8), The Terrace Apartment (sleeps 4) and The Photographer’s Studio (sleeps 2). They can either be booked together for exclusive private use or separately – perfect for a small wedding party!

Browse our other self catering apartments here.

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