The National Monument of Scotland: the Politics of the Scottish Parthenon

The full article was published at the Historic-UK magazine and can be found at:

Most famously called by its resident architect the ‘pride and poverty of us Scots’, the National Monument of Scotland is one of the iconic landmarks of Edinburgh. History has attached many other labels to the ruinesque Parthenon of Calton Hill such as “folly” or “disgrace”, proclaiming it a Scottish failure at besting classical Athens. The monument’s history from its conception to its abandonment in 1829 is a fascinating tale of political, social and of course aesthetic struggles.

In 1815 a monument to commemorate the dead of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) was proposed to be erected in London. Soon followed proposals for similar monuments in Dublin and Edinburgh to help those unable to reach the capital, to have access to at least one of the other two memorials. The idea of a National Monument in Edinburgh was suggested by the Highland Society of Scotland in 1816, who also considered it as a way to promote Scottish interests within the British scene. The government made clear from the beginning that there would be no allocation of public funding, which led the National Monument Committee in Edinburgh to propose a national church as the Scottish monument, in order to attract a grant of £10.000 through the 1818 Church Act. The expectations for this grant were never realized.

The Politics of the Monument

After a competition, two plans for the prospective monument gathered attention: Archibald Elliot’s Pantheon-style church and Robertson’s/Lord Elgin’s plan for a facsimile of the Parthenon. Elliot considered the spherical form of his plan ideal for commemorative monuments, but his critics claimed that a Pantheon-style church would not be inclusive, as it celebrated military merit over the intellectual achievements that a Parthenon could commemorate.

Read the full article here


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