Envisaged as a National Monument to the fallen heroes of the Napoleonic Wars and modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, it was left unfinished after funding for the project was halted three years after work had begun.
But now a range of merchandise has been launched to celebrate ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’ and is on sale just yards away from the 19th-century landmark.
Sweatshirts, baseball caps, mugs, tea-towels and badges have gone on sale at the art gallery that has taken over the site of Calton Hill’s observatory.
A Glasgow-based artist has designed the items for Collective, which plans to launch a new Edinburgh’s Disgrace range each year. Berlin-born Mick Peter is one of five artists who has created the souvenirs inspired by the gallery’s historic home.
The gallery insists the merchandise has been introduced to reflect the affections the people of Edinburgh have for the monument, despite its unfinished state.
Designed by the celebrated architects Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair, the monument was instigated by the Highland Society of Scotland, with Calton Hill chosen as the site ahead of The Mound in 1822.
Sir Walter Scott was among the prominent figures who helped to promote the £42,000 fundraising campaign to pay for the monument.
However, only a third of the money was in place when construction work on the monument finally got under way in 1826.
Installing each of the colossal Doric columns required the brute force of 12 horses and 70 men to haul the blocks of stone from Craigleith Quarry to the summit of Calton Hill more than three miles away. Enthusiasm for the monument soon waned away and work ground to a halt in 1829.
The Edinburgh’s Disgrace merchandise has gone on sale at a gift shop created as part of a £4.5 million overhaul of the city observatory, which Playfair also designed and was completed in 1818.
Collective director Kate Gray said she believed the souvenirs would make “perfect Christmas presents”.
She said: “We’ve always been a bit intrigued by this moniker for the National Monument and thought it would be something to celebrate.
“We plan to commission a different artist every year to refresh the merchandising range. It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also a bit affectionate, as it is really what the people of Edinburgh call the site rather than what’s in the official tour guides.
“People really seem to like it. It’s used as a backdrop for lots of different things that happen in Edinburgh and an image of the monument is definitely one of the photographs people take away from Edinburgh.”
Lara MacLeod, retail manager at Collective, said: “We really wanted to think about the whole idea of souvenirs, what is unique about our location on Calton Hill and what we could be playful with.
“The National Monument has been known as Edinburgh’s Disgrace for such a long time. We just loved the idea that it is a fun term that could be used playfully and celebrate the fact locals still call it that, see it very much as part of their city and want to share it with people when they visit.
“We really wanted to celebrate it in its glory and also the fact it is a bit of a folly as a monument.”
Peter said: “Everyone likes an irreverent way of referring to big built things that they see every day to show they don’t take themselves or their town too seriously
“I wanted the design to seem like a brand or like a perverse take on sweaters where the most notable feature is the brand name.”