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Edinburgh World Heritage/Our Heritage/What is Greek Revival?

What is Greek Revival?

Adam Wilkinson

22nd January 2018

Adam Wilkinson

On February 1 we have the pre-inquiry meeting for the Royal High School, one of the most important Greek Revival buildings in the world.

But what is the Greek Revival? These buildings tend to abide by the rules of classical architecture, but have something of the romantic or picturesque about them. They are often institutional: expressions of civic or national pride, such as St George’s Hall in Liverpool, or the Walhalla in Donaustaf.

The Walhalla, Donaustauf, Germany

It is the associations of Greek architecture that were deemed important – representing the ideals of a learned, democratic state, and the Athenian oath ‘I shall leave the city not less but more beautiful than I found it’. It is the reason that Edinburgh has been called the Athens of the North.

The essential elements of Greek architecture are columns without a base (such as on Windsor Street) and a simple capital, exemplified in the Doric order. Sitting above this would be an entablature and other familiar classical elements.

Architects such as Schinkel, von Klenze, Strickland, Latrobe, Playfair, Hamilton, Wilkins and Cockerell produced some of the compositions we know and love today. The Parthenon and buildings of the Acropolis are obvious inspiration, as is the Temple of Hephaestus. In Edinburgh the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates can be found in different guises. The Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus is a harder one to find.

The Propylaea, Munich, Germany

Other stunning examples include the Glyptothek and Propylaea in Munich, Tennessee State Capitol, St Pancras New Church in London, the Altes Museum in Berlin, the Ruhmeshalle – and much later but no less powerful, the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC