Imagine yourself being able to travel about two centuries back in time, to a city somewhere in Europe…

Arriving in this city, your point of entry would be on a corner of a garden surrounded by stately buildings with uniform façades of solemn, timeless sandstone, already worn dark here and there by the climate in this part of the world. The more prominent of the houses are decorated with classic Greek columns. There are the corinthian and ionic capitals. Some buildings have ornamental details, floral and elegant, others simple geometric brick patterns and lines. The overall appearance is one of consistent and carefully calculated style, also known as the Georgian style, after a series of King Georges which ruled the lands back then. Travelling forward in time to the present moment, to the same spot you left from, nothing much would have changed, it seems, and you probably wouldn’t have guessed that you found yourself in Charlotte Square in Scotland’s Capital of Edinburgh.

Header photo: Edinburgh as seen from Calton Hill, with the Dugald Stewart Monument (left)

Strolling around Charlotte Square you may find yourself drawn to one particular building. The Georgian House is a fine example of 18th century New Town, neoclassical architecture. The façade was designed, as part of the Charlotte Square development, by the world class architect, Robert Adam. It was built for John Lamont, 18th Chief of the Clan Lamont and his family, which lived there from 1796 until 1815. The Georgian House is open to the public. Charlotte Square is mirrored by St. Andrew’s Square at the other (east) end of George Street.

Charlotte Square
Charlotte Square
Edinburgh Castle as seen from Princes Gardens
Edinburgh Castle as seen from Princes Gardens

Edinburgh Castle

The iconic Edinburgh Castle is part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. The extensive castle complex consists of St. Margaret’s Chapel from the 12th century; the Great Hall from around 1510; the Half Moon Battery (late 16th century); and the Scottish National War Memorial after the First World War. The castle houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Stone of Destiny, the famous 15th century gun Mons Meg, the One O’ Clock Gun and the National War Museum of Scotland. Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction.

Looking up the Royal Mile (High Street)
Looking up the Royal Mile (High Street)

The Royal Mile

John Knox House
John Knox House

The Royal Mile (High Street) stretches from the Edinburgh Castle esplanade down to the Holyrood Palace. Among the many historic building lining the Royal Mile are the St. Giles Cathedral and the picturesque John Knox House, one of the oldest in the Old Town, mostly built in the mid 16th century.

At the bottom of the Royal Mile lies the modern and rather quirky looking Scottish Parliament building. Just across the street from the political debates sits another important official and historic building, the Holyrood Palace, residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Past the Palace lie the Holyrood Park and the open, undulating landscape.

The Scottish Parliament Building
The Scottish Parliament Building
Holyrood Palace
Holyrood Palace

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens lies at centre of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, within New Town and Old Town, set in the valley between the two towns with Edinburgh Castle on its rock towering above the western end (see photo below). There are several public monuments and memorials in Princes Street Gardens dating mainly from the 1840s to 1990s, among them the impressive Sir Walter Scott monument, a soaring Gothic-style spire which is open to the public.

Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh’s “Parthenon” on Calton Hill
Edinburgh’s “Parthenon” on Calton Hill

Calton Hill – the Acropolis of Edinburgh

Two of the main streets connecting the new and old towns are the Mound that takes you past the Scottish National Gallery and the Academy, and the North Bridge straddling the Waverley Station. Both streets are connected to Princes Street, a major shopping street.

Calton Hill is situated just past the east end of Princes Street, with the towering Nelson Monument guiding your way. The main reason for the “Acropolis” reference is an unfinished monument intended as a memorial hall for Scottish soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic wars of the 18th century. Clearly inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, the public support dwindled after a while and the funds for the construction of the monument ran out too soon – and the rest is history. From Calton Hill, and in particular from the top of the Nelson Monument, you have a splendid 360-degrees panoramic view of Edinburgh and far beyond.

Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage

Together, the Old and New Towns form a dramatic reflection of significant changes in European urban planning, from the inward looking, defensive walled medieval city of royal palaces, abbeys and organically developed burgage plots in the Old Town, through the expansive formal Enlightenment planning of the 18th and 19th centuries in the New Town, to the 19th century rediscovery and revival of the Old Town with its adaptation of a distinctive Baronial style of architecture in an urban setting. (Source: UNESCO)

Sources:
All photos by Asgeir Pedersen, Spots France
This article was first published in July 2016.
Visit Scotland
Edinburgh City Council
UNESCO
Holyrood Palace
John Knox House
Calton Hill (Edinburgh Expert)