April 20, 2004

Plans to finish the Edinburgh Parthenon

Posted at 9:26 pm in Acropolis

Around the world there are a number of replicas of the Parthenon, most notably one in Nashville. Edinburgh (a city that sometimes describes itself as “the Athens of the North”) has the beginnings of a replica which was never completed.
Now an architect has put forward a proposal to complete it using flagpoles to finish the remaining columns.

Edinburgh Evening News

Tue 20 Apr 2004
Architect flags up plan to finish ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’

FOR almost 200 years it has stood as one of the city’s best known and best loved landmarks despite being only half-built.

But now one of Scotland’s leading architects has unveiled plans to complete the unfinished “Parthenon” on Calton Hill.

Malcolm Fraser wants to use scores of towering, Tibetan-style flagpoles to take the place of the “missing” columns on the National Monument, better known as “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”.

The 150 flagpoles would carry messages about the “hopes and prayers” of hundreds of Scottish schoolchildren for the country’s new parliament.

Based on a tradition originating in the Himalayan mountains, the messages are supposed to be carried across the country on the wind.

The idea has been met with mixed responses, with one design expert blasting the proposal as “banal” and “a deeply empty gesture”.

Mr Fraser has said he wants to see a “field of flags that are very tall and narrow” to be added to the site containing messages from every school in Scotland.

The city-based architect – who designed the Dance Base centre in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle with the approval of Prince Charles – said the opening of the Scottish Parliament provided an ideal opportunity to make a statement on Calton Hill.

“Many people are drawn to Calton Hill as a special place for our nation,” he said. “On a fine, breezy day here you can think clearly and see far. It is extraordinary that in the centre of Edinburgh there should be a place which feels like it connects directly to the whole country beyond the city that surrounds it.”

He added: “There is a tradition of such things in the Himalayas. There these prayer flags whip, flap and bluster in a wind that blows the prayers out across the land. The symbolism of Calton Hill as receiving messages from our young for the parliament below and then broadcasting them across the country on the wind, is clear and striking.”

But Peter Wilson, director of the Manifesto Foundation for Architecture at Napier University, claimed Mr Fraser’s proposals would spoil the location.

He said: “Calton Hill has this sense of uncompleted business. This is just a small attempt to fill a hole that should have been filled with something more important. I think the idea of having children write these messages is banal and a deeply empty gesture.

“People in Edinburgh seem to like the hill the way it is and have always opposed plans to change it. It only seems like architects that want to do something.” Mr Fraser is currently working on plans for a replacement building for the Cowgate fire site.

Calton ward councillor Dougie Kerr welcomed the idea, but only as a temporary addition to the landscape.

“It could be beneficial but I would only like to see it there on a temporary basis. It might be something worth trying once during the Festival,” he said. “The flags would get quite tatty after a while.”

Plans for the National Monument were first suggested in the early 19th century by leading figures, including Sir Walter Scott, Henry Cockburn and the project’s architect, William Playfair.

They called for £42,000 to be raised to pay for a replica of the Parthenon and, within months, £16,000 was raised. The six-ton foundation stone was laid in 1822 by the Earl of Elgin during the visit of King George IV.

The monument was to be a memorial to the Scottish soldiers who gave their lives in the defeat of Napoleon, but work didn’t begin for another four years and by 1830 it stopped altogether and nothing has been done since.

Susie Lynn, secretary of the Regent, Royal and Carlton Terraces Association, was uncertain what to make of the proposal.

She said: “We feel we are the custodians of Calton Hill and our job is to preserve the area. We respect Malcolm Fraser as an architect but we would want to see these plans for ourselves. The Scottish Parliament could do with the prayer, though.”

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