Edinburgh rooftop sculptures: Can you guess where?

BARE-breasted lovelies and leering blokes. Mythical creatures, bearded gods, naked chubby-cheeked cherubs, the odd sphinx and swathes of thistles, lush fruit and cascading foliage.

It’s all there – you just have to look up.

For if we care to glance up from our mobile phones for just a moment to absorb the view up above, there’s a whole world of characters, features, friendly faces – and a few that seem to be laughing at us – right above our heads.

A new book has brought the pick of them together, from art deco-style half-naked virgins who can be found gazing down serenely on one of the New Town’s busiest shopping streets, to the very cheeky-faced, gurning gargoyles which seem to poke fun at patrons of the pub they guard, to unicorns, lions, slithering snakes and even, bizarrely, a scorpion.

Writer and photographer Adrian Searle says it was only when he started to compile a collection of the sculptures and architectural features that lie “hidden in plain sight” above our heads, that he realised just what a wealth of it there actually is.

“People don’t tend to look up,” he admits. “But once I did, I realised that it is not only incredibly interesting architecturally but the sculptures are fascinating.

“There is a hell of a lot of sculpture up there and most people don’t see it.”

To solve that problem, he has compiled a hardback book, Look Up Edinburgh, which features dozens of quirky, thought-provoking and curious architectural details, some originally designed to reflect businesses and organisations now lost in time and which today seem quite at odds with the current occupiers, and others which, if at ground level, might well stop passers-by in their tracks.

“Once you start looking up, it becomes a great game to play, trying to spot stuff that you have never noticed before,” adds Adrian, who studied history and history of art at Edinburgh University and admits that he’s now found dozens of examples he failed to spot during his student days.


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Most date from Victorian and Georgian eras, when the fashion of the day was to reflect renaissance architectural styles of Ancient Rome and Venice, with lavish decoration from the tip of the roof down.

“The Romans littered their buildings with sculpture, it was their highest form of art. And 19th century Edinburgh and Glasgow wanted to copy that.”

But among the older examples – many of which, sadly, are being whittled away by the ravages of time and left to disintegrate, such as some stunning examples of sculpture on the north facade of the former Scotsman newspaper building – are other, modern artworks.

“I particularly like a bronze relief that features the Wise and Foolish Virgins which are on a Seventies extension to a late Victorian building,” says Adrian. “The inspiration is a bible story. The wise virgins are very uniform and look a bit like something from a Robert Palmer video.


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“The foolish ones are going slightly crazy, tearing their clothes and looking totally demented like they should be in a Kate Bush video.”

They are all up there somewhere . . . should we take time to look.

Question is, can you figure out where?

1: Has this buxom lady with the mystic smile overdosed on the Pic ‘n’ Mix counter by any chance?


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2: The eagle has landed – and is keeping watch on Edinburgh’s Christmas fun.

3: Hardly suitable attire for a night out in Edinburgh’s party street.

4: The sting is in the tail of this zodiac character above a busy store for chubby-cheeked folk.

5: Shine a light on all who pass by on their way to eat, drink and be merry.


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6: From Egypt all the way to this New Town square, a favourite for book lovers every August.

7: This sphinx keeps a watch over justice in the Old Town.

8: Every Gothic church – particularly this famous building – needs a friendly gargoyle.

9: One of the more risqué stars of the show at this Edinburgh venue.


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10: Workers unite for a trip to the cinema.

11: Some think it’s a dumpy plane, but this is actually a flying fish on the dome of what was once a branch of the Co-op.

12: Hogwarts? Or perhaps a place where magic hands once healed.