Standing on the summit of Calton Hill above the east end of Edinburgh’s Princes Street, Nelson’s Monument is an imposing stone structure commemorating the death of Admiral Horatio Nelson and Britain’s victory over French and Spanish forces at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This monument was erected 1816, not long before the adjacent National Monument, and is indeed one of the finest preserved monuments in the city.
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National historians agreed to select Edinburgh as the chosen site for the monument that subsequently replaced a single mast telegraph that previously stood on Calton Hill, serving as a timekeeper to seafaring vessels entering the port of Leith nearby. Nelson’s Monument has an intriguing design, resembling an upturned telescope and at the very top of the tower, a replacement mast was erected in place of the original telegraph, serving a similar purpose for mariners before the advent of accurate time-keeping devices.
Today, this magnificently preserved tower is a regular attraction for visitors and locals alike and alongside the adjacent National Monument, it plays host to numerous events on Calton Hill, the most noted of which is the Beltane Fire Festival, celebrating early Christian culture and Celtic customs in Spring.
Originally used for early seafarers to set their chronometers, the time ball is still in full working capacity and continues to drop at its scheduled hour at 12pm during winter weekdays and 1pm during the summer, in unison with the one o’clock gun fired from the canons of Edinburgh Castle. Visiting the tower during these hours is indeed one of the busiest periods, therefore it is recommended to arrive early to assure entry.
Not only admired for its architectural and aesthetic appeal, Nelson’s Monument is popular amongst visitors due to its location, standing 106 ft high and its base being 456ft above sea level. Ascending the 143 steps to the top of the tower is worth the endurance, offering a spectacular vantage point across Edinburgh’s stunning skyline towards the Pentland Hills to the South and the Firth of Forth, Fife to the North and Forth Bridges to the West.