City Observatory, 38, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

General Details and Location

Name of Building
City Observatory
Other Name(s)
38, Calton Hill, Edinburgh
Planning Authority
Divisional Area
Reference No
Listing Category
OS Grid Ref
NT 26197 74184
Location Type
HS Reference No


Classical, symmetrical, Greek cross-plan building with hexastyle Doric portico to each wing and dome on octagonal drum to centre. Single storey (2-storey to South wing and dome), each wing 3 bays deep and 5 bays wide. Tooled ashlar; polished ashlar to stylobate, pilasters, columns, and entablature. 2-step stylobate; base course; entablature; blocking course (to sides of wings); corniced raking pediment (to porticos at end of wings). Tuscan Doric pilasters to sides of wings; Tuscan Doric columns to porticos. Regular fenestration (window to each of 3 central bays to end of wings).

The City observatory was commissioned by the Astronomical Institution (founded 1812). They wished to build an observatory which could be used for scientific research, form a base for the establishment of an accurate public time service for Edinburgh and Leith, and create a 'popular observatory' where members of the Institution could go to conduct their own experiments and research.It is a well-known landmark in Edinburgh and is a vital component in the group of buildings on Calton Hill which are both architecturally and culturally significant in the history of the city and the nation. It is also highly significant in the history of astronomy and timekeeping in Scotland. (Historic Scotland )
Building Dates
1818; 1827; 1895

Category of Risk and Development History

Category of Risk
Exemptions to State of Risk
Not to be confused with the Royal Observatory.
Field Visits
03/12/2008, 19/10/2011, 19/5/2015
Development History
2000: The Calton Hill Conservation Plan recommends public amenity use such as a visitors' centre. 22 September 2002: The Sunday Herald reports that campaigners have expressed concern at the deteriorating condition of both the City Observatory and Observatory House. A management group has been formed to consider the buildings' futures. 10 January 2003: The Glasgow Herald reports that the Cockburn Association has again expressed concern at the condition of the building. 1 November 2003: The Edinburgh Evening News reports that the council has put forward proposals for £500,000 of phased repairs to both Observatory House and the City Observatory, allowing public access to be restored. Heritage Lottery funding is to be sought. The roof would be replaced and the telescope slots and shutters reinstated. July 2004: Local planners report that the building is subject to a long term fabric repair programme.
July 2008: The Scotsman reports that repair works to the neighbouring City Observatory House (Former) are under way and Edinburgh City Council hope to carry out a full programme of repairs to the City Observatory. A research project into the historical and cultural significance of all the elements of Calton Hill has been commissioned.
December 2008: External inspection finds the building to be vacant and undergoing some repairs to the roof; thieves are known to have removed lead from the roof on several occasions. Moved to At Risk.
June 2009: The Scotsman reports Edinburgh Council is working with NMS to restore instruments within the building. The article goes on to note on longer term options to bring the building back into use are at an early stage of development.
December 2009: Edinburgh Evening News reports that work is due to begin to restore the Observatory. The building will be closed for some of the works but will continue to be a research centre, visitor centre, research office and collections centre after works are completed.
June 2011: Edinburgh Evening News & The Scotsman report visual arts group The Collective Gallery have put forward a feasibility study to Edinburgh City Council to relocate from their current base Cockburn Street, to the old observatory of Calton Hill, to create a year-round arts venue. The study is reported to be going forward to councillors for consideration, next week.
July 2011: Local planners report that the Culture & Sport cttee approved, on June 28, the principle of relocation of the Collective Gallery to the City Observatory by the end of June 2012. A feasibility study is underway, and if successful, proposals for internal renovation and alterations will be developed.
October 2011: External inspection finds no significant change from the previous site visit, although the condition of the interior is unknown.
January 2012: Edinburgh City Council‘s Finance and Resources Committee approved (Nov 2011) the granting of a 25 year lease of the building to the Collective Gallery (subject to a request to the appropriate council for permission to grant the lease) initially on a month to month basis, linked to a partnership agreement to make the Old Observatory and City Dome accessible to the public.
19 July 2012: Local planners report Collective Gallery are due to move into the Observatory shortly.
25 February 2015: Local planners advise the observatory's dome has been restored and is now open to the public. Fundraising and project planning for the restoration of the wider complex is underway.
19 May 2015: External inspection finds the site is under preparation for full restoration and conversion for charity Collective Gallery.
10 August 2015: Historic Scotland award £233,208 from their Building Repair Grant scheme towards the restoration of the complex into an art gallery, cafe and event space through Collective Gallery.
3 September 2015: Full Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent for refurbishment and landscaping works are being sought ref: 15/01828/FUL & 15/01737/LBC. Full Planning Permission for temporary offices and accommodation for the duration of the major refurbishment work has been conditionally granted July 2015 ref: 15/02483/FUL
1 December 2016: Restoration works to convert the site into a contemporary art gallery have commenced with a view to be complete in late 2017. Moved to Restoration in Progress.
22 October 2018: Urban Realm website reports on the upcoming re-opening of the complex on 24 November, following its conversion to exhibition space, offices, restaurant and shop.

Guides to Development

Conservation Area
New Town
Planning Authority Contact
PAC Telephone Number
0131 529 3901


Current Availability
Not Available
Appointed Agents
Occupancy Type
Present/Former Uses
Building Uses Information:
Present Use 1: Observatory Former Use 1: Observatory
Present Use 2: N/A Former Use 2: N/A
Name of Owners
Edinburgh City Council
Type of Ownership
Local Authority

Information Services

Additional Contacts/Information Source
Online Resources
Research Establishments
Original Entry Date
Date of Last Edit