Like Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill was formed through volcanic activity some 340 million years ago and then gouged by glaciers during the Ice Age, leaving this little hill standing proud at just over 100 metres in height.
In 1724 the town council of Edinburgh established Calton Hill as one of Britain’s public parks and it is now part of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town Heritage Site. As well as being a popular location for Edinburgh’s Festival and Hogmanay celebrations Calton Hill is the site of the annual spring fire festival of Beltane on the last day of April where a procession makes its way across the summit.
Due to lack of funds the National Monument was never completed but it dominates the summit of Calton Hill. It was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens and built in 1822 as a memorial to the Scots soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The architects were Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair.
Also designed by Playfair was the Playfair Monument, which was built for his uncle, John Playfair who played a major role in establishing the City Observatory as well as being the Chair of Mathematics and Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University.
The City Observatory stands next to the Playfair Monument and is actually three buildings – the Old Observatory was built in 1776, work on the New Observatory began in 1818, whilst the City Observatory, with its distinctive green dome, opened in 1895.
William Playfair also designed The Dugald Stewart in the style of a Grecian Temple. Stewart was a philosopher who, like John Playfair, was Chair of Mathematics and Chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. Stewart also first compared Edinburgh with Athens, which in turn led Edinburgh becoming known as the ‘Athens of the North’.
The final memorial is the 100-foot high Nelson Monument, which was erected in 1807, two years after Admiral Horatio Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar.