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Ross Fountain, Edinburgh: French Artisanship with a Scottish Twist

Edinburgh’s iconic Ross Fountain in the west end of Princes Street Gardens plays an important role as the spectacular backdrop for pictures and video for locals and visitors. However, the Fountain has gone through quite a bit since it was first installed in 1872. So, how did a beautiful example of French Beaux Arts architecture come to be in Edinburgh? Sit back and relax as we take a wee virtual tour of the history of Ross Fountain.

French Artisanship Comes to Scotland

The birthplace of Ross Fountain was at Antoine Durenne’s iron foundry in Sommevoire, France. It was sculpted by the renowned sculptor, Jean-Baptiste Klagmann who notably designed sculpture for the Medici Fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg and for the Louvre Fountain in Paris. The cast-iron fountain consists of mermaids, cherubs, walrus, and lion heads. There are also four female figures featured on Ross Fountain that symbolise science, arts, poetry, and industry.

The Edinburgh gun maker, Daniel Ross, saw the fountain at the International Exhibition in London in 1862, bought it, and gifted it to the city. The fountain was disassembled and shipped to Leith in 1869.

Unfortunately, the installation of the fountain in Princes Street Gardens was delayed because the minister of St John’s Episcopal Church didn’t look upon the fountain sculptures for the beautiful works of art that they are. Instead, in true Victorian fashion, he deemed the naked nature of the female figures to be ‘indecent’ and ‘disgusting’ (after all, Edinburgh was a much different place than Paris in the late 1860s). Therefore, Ross Fountain wasn’t presented to the public until 1872.

Despite its rocky start, Ross Fountain eventually became an iconic Edinburgh landmark. For many decades it was a favourite picture location with another historic landmark watching over it from the hill above- Edinburgh Castle. However, time eventually took its toll on the Fountain with the original paint wearing off and the functionality of the water feature not working properly. In 2001, restoration work was done on the Fountain, and they were able to get the water running again. However, this only lasted for several years, and the water had to be turned off to preserve the Fountain which was in a fragile state. It was apparent that much more extensive restoration was needed.

Recent Restoration

In July 2017, Ross Fountain was disassembled for the first time since its installation to begin the lengthy restoration process. This was made possible by a partnership between Edinburgh World Heritage (through their Conservation Funding Programme funded by Historic Environment Scotland), Edinburgh Council, and the Ross Development Trust. According to Edinburgh World Heritage, 122 pieces of the fountain had to be sent away to a workshop to be recast and repainted- taking 40,000 hours of work! The Fountain also required 650 litres of paint to return it to its original colour scheme. Ross Fountain was officially turned back on, on 8th July 2018. The result of the extensive restoration project (which cost £1.9 million) is the stunning Fountain that we enjoy today.

Visiting Ross Fountain

Ross Fountain is a favourite location for Sawyer when he isn’t helping to guide our Edinburgh walking tours. The myriad of pictures of him hamming it up for the camera is proof:

The beauty of Ross Fountain is that it is in Princes Street Garden and it is free for all to visit. If you are interested in seeing the Fountain in-person, you can find more information on the Museums and Galleries Edinburgh website as it is one of the monuments they manage. You can also contact us regarding a private walking tour.

One of the lessons Ross Fountain provides us is to remember to celebrate the beauty right where you live. We are so truly fortunate to have this stunning work of art here in Edinburgh, and love to share it with others online and in-person. Therefore, we hope you have enjoyed our brief virtual journey to Princes Street Gardens and the iconic Ross Fountain.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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