Edinburgh Walks: the National Monument of Scotland

Submitted by edg on Wed, 11 May '22 8.18pm
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The National Monument of Scotland on Calton Hill is the striking structure that pokes above Edinburgh's skyline, to the East of the city centre.

It's a grand name for a monument that has a less-than illustrious history, when you consider that it was never completed to plan due to a lack of funds.

The gargantuan structure dominates the top of Calton Hill and, even though after two hundred years it is incomplete, it has become both a popular visitor attraction and an iconic symbol of Edinburgh's past.

The original plan for the National Monument of Scotland was to design a replica of the Parthenon in ancient Athens as a tribute to those service men who died in the Napoleonic wars and to cement Edinburgh's Enlightenment reputation as the "Athens of the North".

The Monument was designed between 1823 and 1826 by English architect Charles Robert Cockerell and renowned Edinburgh neo-classical, New Town architect William Henry Playfair. 

A 6-ton foundation stone was laid in the summer of 1822, during the visit of King George IV to Scotland - although his Highness skipped the ceremony to go shooting.

When construction started in 1826, it was heavy-going. It took 12 horses and 70 men to get the lintels on top of the columns to the Monument's location on the top of Calton hill. They were the largest pieces of stone ever quarried in Scotland

The project was backed enthusiastically by wealthy Edinburgh residents at its outset, but only a fraction of the original £42,000 budget was raised and construction was forced to end in 1829.

Only the existing twelve columns you can see today were finished, leading critics to deride the Monument as a "national disgrace" and "Edinburgh's folly".

Today, it remains a popular destination for visitors and residents alike and somehow seems a fitting city landmark on the wind-blasted top of Calton Hill.

Suggestions to complete the monument - as a National Gallery (in 1907), as a site for a Scottish Parliament (1908), to commemorate Queen Victoria (1901) - have met with a luke-warm reception and disagreement between those with nationalist and unionist outlooks. 

The Monument may still be  unfinished but it is actively maintained by local heritage bodies. In 2008, Edinburgh World Heritage repointed one of the lintels at a cost of £100,262.

You can clamber up on to the monument, but as the video above shows, it is not always easy to climb its giant steps.

More on the National Monument of Scotland and Calton Hill