Calton Hill is a hill to the east of the New Town in Edinburgh, at the bottom of Princes Street. On the hilltop are several monuments, which give it the name of “Athens of the North”.
Adjacent to the Nelson Monument, the National Monument was designed in honour of the soldiers who lost their lives in the Napoleonic Wars.
Although the ambitious project only has 12 columns, visitors can see its similarity to the Parthenon in Athens. When it was first built, it was greatly criticised as insufficient funds meant it remained (and remains) unfinished, leading it to be variously called “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”, "Edinburgh's Folly" and "The Pride and Poverty of Scotland" by the inhabitants. Nonetheless, it has now become one of the most impressive parts of Scotland's capital.
The astronomical observatory on Calton Hill was first built to house Thomas Short’s reflecting telescope. Short was an optician and was one of the world's leading telescope makers. His daughter was Maria Theresa Short, who years later would create the Camera Obscura.
After many changes and renovations, the beautiful buildings of the observatory are still part of the “small Athens” and are still in use today.
Built between 1807 and 1815, Nelson Monument is a commemorative tower in honour of Vice Admiral Nelson after his victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar.
In 1853 a Time ball was installed at the top of the tower that would drop precisely at 1 pm so that ships about to embark on a long voyage could set their clocks correctly before their departure. It was then connected to a cannon in Edinburgh Castle so that the ball and a cannon could be both set off at 1 pm.
You can climb the 170 steps of the Nelson Monument to get a good view of the city, but the views are not that much different from the ones offered by Calton Hill.
Beltane Fire Festival
On the night of the 30 April thousands of people gather on Calton Hill to celebrate one of the most important festivals of the city, the Beltane Fire Festival.
This festival celebrates the arrival of summer and the fertility of the land and animals. Beltane translates to Bright Fire, making fire the protagonist of the festival. Around a huge bonfire there are performances representing the inception of summer driven by the beating of drums.