The Camera Obscura at Revelin
As if the chance to stay inside a Croatian fortress isn't intriguing enough, Revelin offers guests a one-of-a-kind optical show that brings the outside world in.
Seven years ago, when its owner, Wendy, bought Revelin, a residence inside Tvrdalj Castle in Croatia, she knew she'd invested in a special piece of history—and one with remarkable views. The castle on elegant Hvar Island was founded by nobleman, humanist, and poet Petar Hektorović in 1520. The Renaissance fortress served as a refuge for local citizens against invaders and is built around a saltwater fishpond surrounded by a vaulted terrace. Tucked behind the main structure is a garden where the poet grew herbs and medicinal plants, and his poetry is inscribed in walls throughout the property. It's a magical setting, now a Grade 1 protected Croatian monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When Wendy acquired the residential wing of the castle, it had fallen into disrepair and needed significant restoration. But she wasn't prepared for what happened when she started work.
"During the renovations, small holes around the windows were accidentally made in the stonework," she tells us. "They were due to be filled. Then, one afternoon in July 2021, when the exterior shutters were closed and the rooms completely darkened, I was looking around the empty house and noticed that the holes were acting like projectors, and that images of the outside were being cast into the interior. They were intensely beautiful, perfect replicas of the world outside, only upside down and reversed. We realized that we were looking at camera obscura, and that Revelin is ‘seeing’ the surrounding townscape in the same way that we do... the Renaissance Tvrdalj Castle with its famous garden and fishpond, the tiny church of Saint Rocco, the 15th-century Dominican monastery, and the hillside behind."
For those unfamiliar with camera obscura, the phenomenon is like that of early pinhole cameras, where light travels through a small aperture, creating a projection on the opposite wall—or, in the case of cameras, film or photographic paper. Revelin is a camera obscura on a large scale and all the more remarkable given the home's setting, which brings the historical town of Stari Grad indoors. Realizing that this was something to be celebrated, Wendy made the decision not to fill the holes, which means that, on sunny days when the shutters are closed, light filters into the rooms on the first and second floors, creating vivid images on their walls.
"Luckily, the island of Hvar is one of the sunniest places in the Mediterranean," she says, "so you can see them often. The images change according to the season, the time of day and the position of the sun. They are in fact moving pictures, as changes in the colors, leaves and passing clouds occur inside in real time. You can see changing shadows and the light becomes more golden in the afternoon. They are never the same. It really gets you thinking about perception, reality and time."
That's something photographer Vilma Matulić also noticed. She documented the passage of light and time on the walls of Revelin in her 2022 study "Nihil Occultum" (Nothing Hidden), some examples of which she shared with us here. A full exhibition of her works is on display this summer at the Muzej Staroga Grada (Museum of Stari Grad), but if you'd like to see the camera obscura phenomenon for yourself, the best way to do so is by booking a stay at Revelin.
Start your journey here.
Photographs of "Nihil Occultum" courtesy of Vilma Matulić