Many observers in the past gave detailed descriptions of the telescopic aspect of Venus during its extremely rare transits across the Solar disk. In particular, at the ingress and egress, the portion of the planet’s disk outside the Solar photosphere has been repeatedly perceived as outlined by a thin, bright arc (“aureole”). Those historical visual observations allowed inferring the existence of Venus’ atmosphere, the bright arc being correctly ascribed to the refraction of light by the outer layers of a dense atmosphere. On June 8th, 2004, fast photometry based on electronic imaging devices allowed the first quantitative analysis of the phenomenon. Several observers used a variety of acquisition systems to image the event - ranging from amateur-sized to professional telescopes and cameras - thus collecting for the first time a large amount of quantitative information on this atmospheric phenomenon. In this paper, after reviewing some elements brought by the historical records, we give a detailed report of the ground based observations of the 2004 transit. Besides confirming the historical descriptions, we perform the first photometric analysis of the aureole using various acquisition systems. The spatially resolved data provide measurements of the aureole flux as a function of the planetocentric latitude along the limb. A new differential refraction model of solar disk through the upper atmosphere allows us to relate the variable photometry to the latitudinal dependency of scale-height with temperature in the South polar region, as well as the latitudinal variation of the cloud-top layer altitude. We compare our measurements to recent analysis of the Venus Express VIRTIS-M, VMC and SPICAV/SOIR thermal field and aerosol distribution. Our results can be used a starting point for new, more optimized experiments during the 2012 transit event.