Observatory Hill: The Highest Point In Sydney Area
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Published by TOP4 Team
On the western side of The Rocks, Observatory Hill towers over central Sydney and was a strategic site for early colony. This vistaed retreat from the downtown bustle is home to the Sydney Observatory, once a fort on the highest point in the city, and the National Trust Centre, housed in a former military hospital. At the northwestern foot of the hill lies Millers Point, a quiet district of workers’ cottages and warehouses, several now converted into apartments or hotels.
Observatory Hill, the highest point in Sydney area at 140 feet, was formerly known as Windmill Hill because the first windmill to be built in the colony in 1795 originally stood on the site. A few years later, in 1804, the construction of Fort Phillip was begun on the hill so the government would have somewhere to retreat in the event of an uprising.
As it turned out, four years after Fort Phillip was built, there actually was an uprising. However, the governor at the time, Capt William Bligh, retreated not to the redoubt but under his bed and was placed under house arrest. Two of the fort’s walls now form part of the observatory, which replaces the smaller one built on Dawes Point in the early years of the colony.
To get an overview of Millers Point, from the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, cross Hickson Road to the elegant Palisade Hotel on Bettington Street. Continue northward onto Merriman Street, where you can look across to the west of Darling Harbour. Plans for residential and business development include making this a financial center modeled on Wall Street.
Sydney Observatory, established in 1858 in Italian Renaissance-style buildings, the observatory took some of the first astronomical photographs of the southern sky, as part of an international project to produce the first complete atlas of the night sky. It operated until the 1980s, when the bright lights of the city made use of the telescopes impractical. Sydney’s rainfall is still measured on the site, however.
There is no charge to wander around the grounds and view the observatory exhibitions. Along with telescopes, videos, and hands-on astronomical exhibits, the museum has information about the site’s history and its contribution to astronomy. For a fee you can view films in the 3D space theater, visit the planetarium and telescope tower, and attend day and night telescope viewing sessions. The evening telescope sessions, during which you study the night sky to view planets, must be reserved online or by phone.
The park surrounding the observatory has an elegant band rotunda, with some harbor views, but the noise from the traffic on the Harbour Bridge detracts from the ambience.
National Trust Centre
The New South Wales headquarters of the National Trust of Australia, a conservation organization focused on the built, cultural, and natural heritage of the country, is housed in Governor Macquarie’s Military Hospital of 1815. Situated just behind the observatory, the building was used by the soldiers quartered in George Street until it moved to Victoria Barracks in Paddington in 1848. The building, with its neoclassical facade added in 1871, operated as a school until 1974. The National Trust moved into the premises in 1975 and has information relating to the many significant buildings in Sydney and New South Wales.
S.H. Ervin Gallery: Don’t miss the S.H. Ervin Gallery, which occupies an annex of the military hospital, built in 1841, and operates on a similar but much smaller scale to the Art Gallery of New South Wales or the MCA.
The gallery opened in 1978 and has been consistent in bringing interesting and easily digestible exhibitions for the public. In keeping with its relationship with the National Trust, it’s constantly changing exhibitions often have a historical theme relating to Australia’s cultural heritage, both European and Aboriginal.
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