The Unfinished National Monument of Scotland
- 3 weeks ago
High up on the summit of Carlton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland, stands the country’s National Monument. But far from being the source of national pride, the fallacious project has been a national embarrassment, a disgrace, a folly.
The monument was supposed to be a national memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. If completed, it would have resembled the iconic Parthenon of Athens. Instead, all the Scottish could muster was to erect twelve pillars. The city quickly lost interest and refused to contribute funds for the completion of the monument, and the structure remained incomplete for two hundred years.
A monument to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars was first proposed in 1816 by the Highland Society of Scotland. The proposal found appeal in many prominent Edinburgh residents such as Sir Walter Scott, Lord Elgin and Lord Cockburn, whose support helped promote the project and in 1822, the foundation stone was laid, amid great pomp and ceremony.
Architect Charles Cockerall and William Henry Playfair dreamed up an ambitious monument. Externally, the structure would resemble the Parthenon in Athens, but the inside would house a church and have massive catacomb underneath where Scotland’s important figures would be buried.
Estimate for the project rose to £42,000—a vast sum for the day—but the Society managed to raise only £16,000, with the possibility of a £10,000 grant from Parliament. Despite inadequate funds, it was decided that work would begin on the structure in 1826. Not surprisingly, in just three years, with only twelve stone pillars raised, the funds dried up.
At that time, Edinburgh, as a city, was rapidly developing with several large-scale civic construction projects going on, which the city deemed were more important than the construction of an elaborate memorial with a high projected cost. Despite several attempts in successive years to complete the building, the National Monument remains very much unfinished.