If you read about my rainy adventures at Edinburgh Castle, then you’ll understand when I say that I was bittersweetly surprised when I awoke to find myself in an Edinburgh with gloriously clear blue skies the following morning.
Calton Hill, much like Arthur’s Seat and the Castle Rock, was formed by volcanic activity. Its history may have begun 4,000 years ago when it was occupied during the Bronze Age, but by the 15th century it was used for medieval tournaments and festivities. By the 17th century, however, it had become the site of public executions.
As an aside, I just want to say this: I wasn’t sure how steep the climb to it was going to be, but my lazy self is happy to report that it’s nothing to write home about. A few stairs, a bit of a steep incline, and you’re there.
During the 18th century, the hill became home to a number of buildings, including the National, Nelson, and Dugald Stewart Monuments, and the City Observatory.
Dugald Steward Monument
Designed by William Henry Playfair (you’ll remember him as the architect of the Scottish National Gallery), the monument was completed in 1831, and is dedicated to Dugald Stewart, a Scottish writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Edinburgh.
Its design is based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, with nine fluted Corinthian columns framing an elevated urn on a circular podium.
Also known as the Calton Hill Observatory, the City Observatory is enclosed by a boundary wall with a monument to John Playfair (William’s uncle), president of the Edinburgh Astronomical Institution.
The building below was also designed by William Henry Playfair, and is in fact known as the Playfair Building.
Built in the late 18th century, the Gothic Tower (also known as Observatory House, the Old Observatory, or after its architect, James Craig House) is the oldest structure on Calton Hill.
This monument was built in 1807-1816 to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, where he also lost his life.
Though its original design was completed by Alexander Nasmyth, it was deemed too expensive, and so Robert Burn was commissioned to create an alternative plan in the shape of an upturned telescope, in reference to Nelson. Burn passed away in 1815, leaving the monument unfinished, a task taken up by Thomas Bunnar.
National Monument of Scotland
Designed jointly by Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair, this monument is Scotland’s memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, and is modeled after the Parthenon in Athens.
It was originally intended to be a “Scottish Valhalla,” including an extensive catacomb network to provide burial for several significant figures. Construction started in 1826, but the structure was ultimately left unfinished in 1829 due to lack of funds. This led the public granting it various nicknames, such as “Scotland’s Folly” and “Edinburgh’s Disgrace,” among others. Personally, I think it’s striking, even in its unfinished state.
If all these monuments aren’t enough to pique your interest, then may I interest you in the gorgeous views from atop the hill?