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Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, formerly known as the Outlook Tower, is a building in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the Castlehill section of the Royal Mile next to Edinburgh Castle. Its origins began on Calton Hill where Maria Theresa Short formed an exhibition observatory some time before 1851. This moved to Castlehill in 1853 and was known as "Short's Observatory, Museum of Science and Art" from 1853 to 1892. The structure added two storeys to the pre-existing tenement to create this. The tenement is thought to be the original mansion of the Ramsays of Dalhousie (the "Lairds of Cockpen"), turned into small flats in the 18th century. The main attraction in "Short's" was the camera obscura occupying the topmost room.
It was purchased and refurbished by Patrick Geddes in 1892, who transformed it into a "place of outlook and a type-museum as a key to a better understanding of Edinburgh and its region, but also to help people get a clear idea of its relation to the world at large". The building is now known as "Camera Obscura & World of Illusions".
Part of the Old Edinburgh School of Art in Ramsay Lane, on the corner of Castlehill, Geddes renamed Short's Observatory as the Outlook Tower, incorporating Maria Short's camera obscura and mounted his Civic Survey of Edinburgh exhibition. Patrick Geddes was a committed believer in the exhibition as a vehicle of education. The exhibition though constructed and opened to the public, was relatively short-lived and never completed.
The camera room was expanded and remodelled in 1945.
Outlook Tower Today: Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
The tower, with its six floors of hands-on exhibitions, is still open to the public, making it the oldest purpose built attraction in the city, and one of the oldest in the United Kingdom. Nowadays there are passing references to Patrick Geddes in the presentation on the top floor where the Camera Obscura is still in use to project a "virtual" tour of the city for visitors, and also on the rooftop terrace with its stunning views and very powerful telescopes. But there are many more things to do, see and play with in the World of Illusions on the other floors where there is a huge variety of hands on interactive exhibits on the themes of optical illusions, light, colour and ways of seeing.
Other Outlook Towers
The concept of the Outlook Tower was tried elsewhere. When aged 70 years, Patrick Geddes moved to Montpellier, France where he bought land on a hill with a view over the city, built a house and incorporated another Outlook Tower. The house became the Scots College (College Des Ecossais). There is a working camera obscura tower near the eastern end of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England, also at Aberystwyth in Wales and at Kirriemuir, Scotland.
- Anon. (1906). "A geographic exhibition at the Outlook Tower, Edinburgh". Geographical Teacher 3, 268–271.
- Eccentric Edinburgh, JK Gillon