This is my blog, intended to provide information relevant to the history of Edinburgh in the Georgian period. I would love to hear any comments you may have.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Athens of the North

Mid-eighteenth century Edinburgh was a city constrained within narrow physical confines, and as a result it had become an almost intolerable place to live in for the emerging middle classes. Hemmed in by surrounding lochs and marshes, the buildings had grown vertically for the lack of space with resultant overcrowding. The dark narrow streets and lanes or 'closes' were filthy with human sewage, as the citizens disposed of their waste by flinging it out of their windows. The permanent stench was known as the 'Flowers of Edinburgh'.

The city authorities, mindful of the continuing population growth and of Edinburgh's growing international importance as a seat of learning, embarked upon a visionary expansion to the north. A whole 'New Town' would be created, to offer the emerging middle classes a modern, tasteful residential area. From 1766 this ambitious scheme was taken forward, based upon the design of young architect James Craig, whose grid pattern exemplified the contemporary love for order and formal regularity.

The buildings of the New Town reflected the Georgian love of classical antiquity. Architects looked to the masterpieces of ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration. Robert Adam toured Europe to see the grand buildings of antiquity first hand. Adam's designs for the central dome of Register House and his buildings in Charlotte Square are world-renowned. The classical Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars of Edinburgh earned the city the title 'the Athens of the North'.

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