Grey Matter

Aberdeen has some of the finest architecture of any city in Britain, both in its Old and New Town’s, each of which have several extraordinary examples.

Such was the abundance of Aberdeenshire granite from the mid 18th century that many of Aberdeen’s finest buildings were built from the solid grey stone, leading to Aberdeen becoming known as the Grey or Granite City. As the industry quickly developed it became, long before North Sea Oil, hugely important to the local economy. Aberdeen granite was first sent to London in 1764 for paving and was used in the construction of Portsmouth Docks a few years later. Other celebrated buildings that exploited Aberdeen granite include Bell Rock Lighthouse in 1806 and Waterloo Bridge in London 1817.

What today is Aberdeen Old Town dates back to Roman times (although settlements first sprang up about 8000 years ago) and the New Town from 1136 when David I bestowed Royal status and all the economic benefits that came with such a standing. Agriculture, fishing and textiles all helped Aberdeen flourish but it was the arrival of North Sea oil in the 1970’s that transformed Aberdeen economically. With a population of over 200,000 it Scotland’s third largest city.

Within the Old Town, The Chanonry is home to some of Aberdeen’s finest religious and educational buildings. St Machar’s Cathedral was developed around the 12th or 13th centuries although a church was established here in 580AD by St Machar who was a follower of St Columba. Within the church sits a Celtic cross that is thought to be associated with the original church. The Cathedral is also believed to be the final resting place of one quarter of William Wallace. A little further along The Chanonry, on High Street, is the stunning King’s College, and its oldest building King’s College Chapel. The university was built in the late 15th century, making it the 3rd oldest in Scotland and the 5th oldest in Britain. Much of the original building still exists today and is one of the best examples of medieval architecture in Scotland.

But perhaps Aberdeen’s finest building (and one of the best in Britain) stands in the New Town. Marischal College (pronounced Marshall) was founded by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal of Scotland, in 1593, as a Protestant alternative to nearby King’s College although the structure we see today wasn’t built until the 19th century. Between 1895 and 1906 the building, designed by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, was extended to become the second largest granite building in the world, after the Escorial Palace outside Madrid (Aberdeen got one over on Madrid when Aberdeen Football Club famously beat Real Madrid in the European Cup Winner’s Cup final of 1983). Its many elaborate spires soar skywards; the highest rises to 70 metres and the entire building can’t fail to take your breath away.

Since 2006 Marischal College has been the home of Aberdeen City Council, whilst within the building is Marischal Museum, which holds a collection of national significance, including Egyptian, classical antiquities, and Scottish prehistory displays.

Marischal College, Aberdeen
Marischal College, Aberdeen
Kings College, Aberdeen
Kings College, Aberdeen

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