On the hills of Edinburgh

Why Edinburgh was nicknamed "Athens of the North" and "Edinburgh built on seven hills".

On the hills of Edinburgh?

Edinburgh was given the name "Athens of the North" to reflect its growing importance and sense of achievement. In the 1760s, the construction of Edinburgh's New Town ("Neustadt") began. As the city expanded, there was a demand for appropriate monuments. Antiquity was a great model in the design of the city: first ancient Rome and later ancient Athens. The architect most associated with the New Town is William Playfair, who worked on the National Monument on Calton Hill, among other things. However, Greek antiquity inspired not only the architecture of the buildings, but also the design of the rest of the New Town: from the barber shop to the tea service.

In 1822, the Edinburgh artist Hugh William Williams held an exhibition of his watercolours of Athens. These were to be in direct comparison with the cityscape of the new Edinburgh. This exhibition eventually led to Edinburgh being described as a "modern Athens".

However, it is also traditionally said that Edinburgh was "built on seven hills" - an allusion to the city of Rome. In fact, there are more than 7 hills in Edinburgh, but only the 7 in the city centre count: Arthur's Seat, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill, Braid Hills, Castle Rock, Costorphine Hill and Craiglockhart Hill. You should definitely climb at least one of these hills when visiting the Scottish capital.

Arthur's Seat
"A hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of it's bold design" - this is how the poet and writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who gained world fame for works such as Treasure Island and Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde, described Edinburgh's largest hill. The hill rises 251m and is located in the heart of Edinburgh behind Holyrood House Palace at the end of the Royal Mile. Depending on your fitness, it takes 2 to several hours to climb it. But the view from the top is worth every drop of sweat.

The uniquely shaped hill was given the name 'Arthur's Seat'. Legend has it that the famous Camelot stood on the summit. However, this is not the only legend about Arthur's Seat. For example, on 1 May, people are supposed to collect the first morning dew and wet their faces with it in order to become beautiful. There is a poem about this legend by Robert Fergusson, written in 1773:

"On May Day, in a fairy ring
We've seen them round St Anthon's Spring
Fae grass the cauler dew drops wring
To weet their een,
and water clear as crystal spring
to synd them clean"

In addition, an incident is said to have occurred at the foot of Arthur's Seat in the 12th century that led to the construction of Holyrood House Abbey and later the palace. King David I, a keen hunter, was out on a hunting trip when he saw a beautiful white stag. He dashed after the animal to kill it, but fell off his horse and the stag came at him threateningly. The king thought his last hour had come, but the animal stopped and just looked at him. King David thought he saw a shining cross on the stag's head. He saw this as a sign from God, who had apparently saved his life. Out of gratitude, he had the abbey built - exactly on the spot where the incident with the stag is said to have taken place. The palace was named 'Holyrood' and the Canongate coat of arms is decorated with the head of a stag and a cross.

Calton Hill
There are some steps leading up to Calton Hill near Waterloo Place. The 103m high hill is much easier to climb than Arthur's Seat and offers equally wonderful views over Scotland's capital. There are a number of monuments on Carlton Hill which are visible from many parts of Edinburgh.

National Monument: The Greek-style National Monument remains unfinished to this day. Construction began in 1822 but William Playfair, the architect, was never able to complete his work as there were insufficient funds. It was intended to be a monument to honour the fallen of Napoleon's war at Waterloo. But even unfinished, it is no less impressive.

Nelson Monument: A monument in honour of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who led his fleets to victory at Trafalgar in 1805, but fell himself. In 1852, a Time Ball was added to the top of the monument so that ships could align their chronometers. This monument is visible from afar.

Dugald Stewart Monument: Another Greek-inspired work by architect William Henry Playfair. This monument is dedicated to the Scotsman Dugald Stewart, a moral philosopher and mathematician of Edinburgh University, where he taught from 1786 until his death in 1828. The monument was commissioned by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and is now one of Edinburgh's most popular postcard subjects.

There are also 2 observatories on Carlton Hill: the Old Observatory House, by architect James Craig, built in 1792, and the City Observatory, built in 1818.