In the early nineteenth century, the city of Edinburgh cultivated a reputation as "the Athens of the North." The paper explores the architectural aspects of this in relation to the city's sense of its own identity. It traces the idea of Edinburgh as a "modern Athens" back to the eighteenth century, when the connotations were cultural, intellectual, and topographical rather than architectural. With the emergence of the Greek revival, however, Edinburgh began actively to construct an image of classical Greece on the hilltops and in the streets of the expanding city. It is argued that the Athenian identity of Edinburgh should be viewed as the culmination of a series of developments dating back to the Act of Union between the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707. As a result, Edinburgh lost its status as a capital city and struggled to reassert itself against the stronger economy of the south. Almost inevitably, the northern capital had to redefine itself in relation to London, the English and British capital. The major developments of Edinburgh in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including the New Town and the urban proposals of Robert Adam, are interpreted in this light. As the eighteenth century progressed, the city grew more confident and by the early nineteenth century had settled upon its role within the Union and within the empire, which was that of cultural capital as a counterbalance to London, the political capital. The architectural culmination of the process of the redefinition of Edinburgh, however, coincided with the emergence of another mythology of Scottish identity, as seen through the Romantic vision of Sir Walter Scott. It implied a quite different, indigenous architecture that later found its expression in the Scots Baronial style. It is argued here, however, that duality does not contradict the idea of Edinburgh as Athens, nor, more generally, does it sit uneasily with the Scottish predilection for Greek architecture, but rather that it encapsulates the very essence of Scottish national identity: both proudly Scots and British.
From Caesarea to Athens: Greek Revival Edinburgh and the Question of Scottish Identity within the Unionist State
- Views Icon Views
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
John Lowrey; From Caesarea to Athens: Greek Revival Edinburgh and the Question of Scottish Identity within the Unionist State. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 1 June 2001; 60 (2): 136–157. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/991701
Download citation file: