The New Town

New Town

The New Town, Edinburgh

The history of The New Town

In the late 18th century, Edinburgh was dramatically expanded with the creation of the New Town, a marvel of urban planning and neoclassical design. The brainchild of architect James Craig, the 1767 plans were envisioned as a grand departure from the crowded and unsanitary conditions of the Old Town. Edinburgh’s New Town was expanded in several phases throughout the 19th century, and today stands as witness to the Enlightenment ideals of order, beauty, and progress.

Cultural significance

The New Town is culturally significant as largest complete example of town planning from the Georgian period anywhere in the world. Its symmetrical streets, elegant squares, and graceful terraces epitomise the architectural ideals of the Enlightenment. The area’s legacy as a centre for intellectual, cultural, and social pursuits continues to shape Edinburgh’s identity.

Why is it important to Edinburgh?

The New Town is central to Edinburgh’s identity as a city of Enlightenment ideals and intellectual vigour. Its broad avenues, lined with Georgian townhouses, create a sense of space and order. The New Town’s role as a hub for cultural institutions, shops, and residences has made it a desirable area to live, visit, and do business.

Key Features

Neoclassical Elegance: The New Town’s architecture reflects the neoclassical style prevalent in the late 18th century. The uniformity of design and use of classical elements make it one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture and urban planning in the world.

Cultural Nexus: The New Town has long been a hub for cultural and intellectual pursuits. It houses esteemed institutions like the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, continuing Edinburgh’s role as a city of outstanding artistic and intellectual power.

Princes Street Gardens: The tranquil Princes Street Gardens, nestled between the Old and New Towns, offer a green oasis in the heart of the city. With stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, it’s a cherished retreat for residents and visitors alike.

Key events

James Craig’s Urban Vision (1767)
The establishment of the New Town in the late 18th century under the guidance of architect James Craig was a transformative event in Edinburgh’s history. Craig’s symmetrical design and neoclassical architecture ushered in a new era of planned urban living, creating a stark contrast to the organic layout of the Old Town that is central to its World Heritage Site status.

Charlotte Square (1791)

Charlotte Square is believed by many to represent the highpoint of the first New Town’s planning. The famous Scottish architect Robert Adam designed the townhouses on each side of the square as unified blocks, creating palace-like frontages. Charlotte Square soon became one of the most prestigious addresses in the city and today incorporates Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland.

Modern Cultural Hub (20th Century — Present)
In recent decades, the New Town has evolved into a thriving cultural hub. The area is home to numerous galleries and cultural institutions, fostering a vibrant arts scene. It is also one of the city’s premier shopping districts and is one of Edinburgh’s most desirable places to live and work.

Additional information

Construction of the first New Town buildings began in 1767, and the First New Town was mostly complete by the 1820s.
The New Town’s distinctive layout and architectural unity set it apart. It represents a deliberate departure from the organic, medieval layout of the Old Town, showcasing a vision of planned urban living.
The New Town is situated to the north of the Old Town, encompassing a significant portion of central Edinburgh.

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