Calton Hill

Calton Hill

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

The history of Calton Hill

Calton Hill is a volcanic hill rising beyond the eastern end of Princes Street. The hill boasts a collection of some of Edinburgh’s most important monuments and offers fantastic panoramic views of the city. In the 19th century, Edinburgh was envisioned as the ‘Athens of the North’ and Calton Hill was considered Edinburgh’s version of the Athenian Acropolis, complete with classical revival architecture.

Cultural significance

Calton Hill is culturally significant for its famous view of Edinburgh, which features in several historic paintings and engravings of the city, as well as its fine collection of monuments. The most famous monument is the National Monument which was designed as a replica of the Parthenon in Athens. It was intended to commemorate the Scottish servicemen who died in the Napoleonic Wars, but was never completed, leaving just the twelve columns you see today.

Why is it important to Edinburgh?

Calton Hill embodies the contrast of urban and natural landscapes that makes Edinburgh special. It is a peaceful open-air gallery of some of Edinburgh’s most important monuments and a popular spot from which to view the city.

Key Features

Monuments: Calton Hill is home to several neoclassical structures, including the National Monument, the City Observatory and the Dugald Stewart Monument. Calton Hill is also home to the Nelson Monument which was completed in 1816 to commemorate the death of Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Panoramic Views: The hill’s elevated position provides unmatched views of Edinburgh’s skyline, including iconic landmarks like the Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat, and the Old Town. It offers a unique perspective of the city’s layout, presenting views down to Leith and across the Firth of Forth.

Civic Legacy: Calton Hill and its monuments represent 19th century attempts to make Edinburgh the ‘Athens of the North’. To this day, the hill serves as a testament to Edinburgh’s aspirations for cultural, scientific, and architectural prominence.

Key events

The National Monument Construction Begins (1822)
Construction of the National Monument on Calton Hill began in 1822, with the aim of creating a Scottish equivalent to the Parthenon in Athens. The project was ambitious, aiming to commemorate those who fell in the Napoleonic Wars, but it was left unfinished due to lack of funds.

Chartist Movement (1838)
Calton Hill played a significant role in the Chartist movement, which campaigned for political reform in the 19th century. In 1838, a massive Chartist rally took place on the hill, with thousands of people gathering to demand universal suffrage and political rights.

Edinburgh’s First Observatory (1776)

Construction of the Gothic-style Observatory House commenced in 1776 as Edinburgh’s first observatory. This laid the foundation for Edinburgh’s rich history in astronomical research and education.

Additional information

Calton Hill’s transformation into a grand civic space began in the late 18th century.
Calton Hill’s distinctive array of unfinished classical monuments, contrasting with its unparalleled views of the city, sets it apart. It represents a fusion of Edinburgh’s artistic and architectural aspirations with its natural landscape.
Calton Hill is situated to the east of the city centre, offering a commanding view of Edinburgh’s skyline.

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