JGA Edinburgh Greek Revival Tour

Scott Abercrombie is currently undertaking personal research into the importance of the Greek Revival movement in Scotland. Scott led the office on a walking tour of Edinburgh to introduce us to the key buildings of the style in the city, whilst also taking in some of Edinburgh’s other iconic buildings.

You can follow Scott’s architectural tour of Edinburgh yourself using this map.

Scott will be lecturing on the Greek Revival in Glasgow during this years Doors Open Day, on the Antiquities of Athens at the Mitchell Library in October, and his article on the Greek Revival in Scotland will be published in the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland’s journal in October.

Between 1820 and 1840 the Greek Revival was at its peak in Edinburgh, the city was home to two of the greatest architects of the style, Thomas Hamilton and William Playfair, as well as some of the most important buildings of the Revival constructed in Britain: Thomas Hamilton’s Royal High School, Playfair’s work at the Scottish National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Scotland, and most notably the latter’s collaboration with Charles Robert Cockerell at the National Monument. The movement is often considered to have reached its pinnacle in Edinburgh, where the coalescent factors of architectural talent, a picturesque landscape and the availability for major public commissions allowed a legacy of great works to be quickly established.

The Greek Revival was an architectural sub-movement of Neoclassicism that emerged in the late 18th Century, and reached its zenith in the first half of the 19th Century. Following on from the Palladianism and subsequent neo-Palladianism exemplified in the work of Robert Adam, the Greek Revival in architecture developed from a widening study of the physical relics of the Ancient Greek civilisation combined with general acknowledgement that Grecian art and architecture was purer and more accomplished than the Roman precedents previously adopted.

Architecturally, the style allowed for the confluence of Classicism and Romanticism, the combination of Sublime and Beautiful architecture presented within a Picturesque composition. These terms were defined by Edmund Burke in one of the key texts that preceded the Romantic movement: his 1757 treatise ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful’. The essence of which is that the Beautiful is found in that which harmonious and aesthetically pleasing, and that which relaxes or inspires love; whilst the Sublime is exemplified in things which inspire awe or fear through characteristics of vastness, the infinite or magnificence. And nowhere was the combination of these three characteristics more cohesively realised than in Edinburgh, where between 1820 and 1840 a collection of great minds took to the the Mound, and most significantly Calton Hill, with the vision of creating a Caledonian Acropolis suitable for the ‘Modern Athens’.