Aberdeen, Scotland

Aberdeen, Scotland’s third largest city, is located on the central-east coast facing the North Sea. It is nicknamed “The Granite City” because about 50% of its buildings were constructed with silver-gray granite called Rubislaw stone. Its other name is the “Oil Capital of Europe.”

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1 Kirk of St Nicholas Spire in Aberdeen, Scotland

The Kirk of St Nicholas dates back to the mid-12 century. It has been called the Uniting Church and Mither Kirk because in 1828 it accommodated six parishes. Since the 1990s, it has served both the Church of Scotland and The United Reformed Church. The West Kirk, viewed from the Kirkyard, was designed by James Gibbs and finished in 1755. This Gothic clock tower was rebuilt after a major fire in 1874 and then furnished with a carillon of 48 bells. The church’s namesake is Saint Nicholas. This 4th century Greek Bishop is the patron saint of fishermen and Aberdeen.

106 Union Street, Aberdeen AB10 1JL, United Kingdom
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2 Greyfriars Kirk Southern Tower in Aberdeen, Scotland

A humble church belonging to St Mary’s Observantine Franciscan Friary was founded here in 1469. The second Greyfriar’s or College Kirk was built on this Broad Street site in 1532. The Franciscans were banished in 1560 but the church remained until the late 1800s. Then Alexander Marshall Mackenzie designed this Gothic Revival replacement. The Greyfriars John Knox Kirk, with this stunning southern tower, was finished in 1903. The middle name of John Knox is a tribute to the leader of the Scottish Reformation. Greyfriars Kirk is adjacent to Marischal College.

31 Queen St, Aberdeen AB10 1AN, UK
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3 Marischal College Broad Street Façade in Aberdeen, Scotland

The Broad Street façade of Marischal College is remarkable. The gothic design by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie was constructed from Kemnay granite and finished in 1906. This is the world’s second largest granite building. The pinnacles glisten in the sun after an extensive renovation in 2011. The equestrian statue by sculptor Alan Herriot depicts King Robert the Bruce raising the Great Charter. This royal degree granted Aberdeen financial independence in 1319.

Marischal College, Broad St, Aberdeen AB10 1AB, UK
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4 Mitchell Tower at Marischal College in Aberdeen, Scotland

This cathedral-worthy tower on Mitchell Hall was added as the east wing of the Marischal College campus in 1895. The former graduation hall and student union was funded by Charles Mitchell. After graduating from Aberdeen University, he became a prominent local shipbuilder. This magnificent structure is one of several Aberdeen landmarks funded by the philanthropist. After his death in 1895, his son, Charles W. Mitchel, continued to contribute money for the creation of the university’s western façade.

Marischal College, Broad St, Aberdeen AB10 1AB, UK
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5 Marischal College History in Aberdeen, Scotland

Nobleman George Keith, the 5th Earl Marischal, founded the New College in 1593. The school initially occupied buildings from a 15th century Franciscan Friary. The first new construction started in 1676 and extended into the 18th century. In 1858, it merged with King’s College to become the University of Aberdeen yet both campuses retained their old name. Most of the Marischal College buildings were leveled to accommodate the current buildings. The first phase (1837 – 1844) was the work of Archibald Simpson. The phase at the turn of the 20th century (1893 – 1906) was by celebrated architect Alexander Marshall Mackenzie. In 2011, most of Marischal College became the headquarters for the Aberdeen City Council. This photo shows the Mitchell Hall from the rear entrance.

5 W N St, Aberdeen AB24 5AS, UK
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6 Queen Street Parish Church in Aberdeen, Scotland

This lovely, Neoclassical building has six Ionic columns and dentil blocks surrounding the pediment with balustrades accents. Architect William E. Gauld’s design was finished in 1905. It replaced the prior United Free Congregation Church built in 1844. This is now the home of the Queen Street Parish Church. The congregation belongs to the Church of Scotland. On the left is the impressive central gothic tower at Marischal College.

79 Queen St, Aberdeen AB10 1AN, UK
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7 Arts Centre & Theatre in Aberdeen, Scotland

The two-tiered auditorium inside of the Arts Centre & Theatre is the stage for regular drama, dance and music events. Most are performed by the Castlegate Theatre Company but other performing arts groups are frequently welcomed. The mostly volunteer-run organization also sponsors a gallery for local artists and photographers to display their work on a rotating basis. In addition, ACT’s Castlegate Theatre School provides classes and workshops for youth plus tuition for aspiring and talented students. Their Greek Revival building, designed by John Smith, was the North Church when it opened in 1830.

33 King St, Aberdeen AB24 5AA, UK
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8 Architect John Smith in Aberdeen, Scotland

This building on Little Belmont Street was a school when it was built in 1841 by John Smith. He was Aberdeen’s first official architect. During the first half of the 19th century, he created many of the city’s landmarks. He favored Greek Revival styles faced with silver-grey granite from the Rubislaw Quarry. Smith was so prolific – including churches, bridges, mansions and castles – that Aberdeen earned the nickname, “The Granite City.” This neoclassical structure is now The Old School House, a restaurant and sports bar owned by Belhaven Brewery.

8 Little Belmont St, Aberdeen AB10 1JG, UK
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9 Repurposed Churches in Aberdeen, Scotland

In 1843, during a General Assembly meeting in Edinburgh, an argument developed concerning state influence on religious and leadership decisions. This Disruption of 1843 caused a split within the established Church of Scotland. Numerous delegates walked out and formed their own Free Church of Scotland. This event sparked a 50 year proliferation of new churches in central Aberdeen. Since then, many of these gorgeous granite buildings have been repurposed for offices, apartments and entertainment. This trend is not surprising when over 40% of the city’s population claim not be affiliated with a religion. This former South Church on Belmont Street is now occupied by Slains Castle, a ghoulish themed bar and restaurant owned by Eerie Pubs.

14 Belmont St, Aberdeen AB10 1JE, UK
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10 King Edward VII Statue in Aberdeen, Scotland

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her son, Edward VII, became the King of the United Kingdom until 1910. Before his accession, the Prince of Wales was best remembered for initiating lavish public appearances and his playboy lifestyle. In this life-size statue, he is wearing a robe in his role as a Royal Knight Companion of the Garter. He carries a gilded scepter plus an orb and cross, symbols of his authority. In the shield below his feet is the image of Saint Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint. The granite sculpture by James Philip is located at the edge of a public park called Union Terrace Gardens along Union Street.

1 Union Terrace, Aberdeen AB10 1LX, UK
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11 Former Northern Assurance Offices in Aberdeen, Scotland

The North of Scotland Fire and Life Assurance Company was founded in Aberdeen in 1836. The name changed to Northern Assurance Company in 1848. Alexander Marshall Mackenzie designed their headquarters at 1 Union Terrace in 1885. Fortunately, he escaped the “curse of the Northern.” Subsequent architects of company buildings in five other cities died soon after the projects were finished. The three crowned towers are the Arms of Aberdeen, a seal dating back to the 15th century. When the insurance company was acquired by the Commercial Union Assurance Company in 1968, it moved out. Then the Monkey House moved in. The pub’s name came from the building’s façade which the locals said resembled a cage. When this photo was taken in 2016, it was announced a different tenant, the Thai Leisure Group, would soon occupy the building for the next 20 years.

1 Union Terrace, Aberdeen AB10 1NJ, UK
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12 His Majesty’s Theatre and St Mark’s Church in Aberdeen, Scotland

A terrace named the Rosemount Viaduct has three famous Aberdeen landmarks. In the middle extending to the copper dome on the right is His Majesty’s Theatre. The HMT opened in 1906, was extensively renovated in 1982 and is now managed by Aberdeen Performing Arts. On the left is the dome of St Mark’s Church. Architect Alexander Marshall Mackenzie modeled it after Paul’s Cathedral in London before it was built in 1892. The third granite building in this trilogy (not shown) is the Central Library.

Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen AB25 1GL, UK
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13 Brief Catholicism History in Aberdeen, Scotland

Catholicism began in Aberdeen around 1012. The religion was severely threatened during the Scottish Reformation under the leadership of clergyman John Knox. His mission as a Protestant was to eradicate the Catholic faith and any control by the pope across the country while establishing the Church of Scotland. Both goals were accomplished in 1560 during the General Assembly in Edinburgh. This radical decision never deterred Catholics in Aberdeen, although their missionary work and masses were clandestine through the 18th century. In 1860, St. Mary’s was built by architect Alexander Ellis. The spire was added in 1877 and it was designated a cathedral the following year. Surprisingly, the Papal Jurisdiction Act of 1550 is still law within the Church of Scotland. However, this Catholic church operates in harmony with the Aberdeen community.

20 Huntly St, Aberdeen AB10 1SH, UK
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14 Music Hall in Aberdeen, Scotland

This Neoclassical building by architect Archibald Simpson opened on Union Street in 1822 as the County Assembly Rooms. After it became The Music Hall in 1858, it began hosting shows by notables such as English writer Charles Dickens. The legacy of the Aberdeen Performing Arts continues with concert performances by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and many other professional and amateur groups. APA is also a major venue for the Aberdeen International Youth Festival. The annual event attracts over 1,000 performing arts students from around the world. The Music Hall reopened in December, 2018, after an extensive £9 million restoration.

215-219 Union St, Aberdeen AB10 1PR, UK
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15 Granite Mile on Union Street in Aberdeen, Scotland

The namesake for Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare is the Acts of Union 1800. This combined Great Britain and Ireland into the United Kingdom. Union Street’s nickname is the Granite Mile because most of the buildings are faced with grey granite. This was a huge city development effort during the early 19th century. It is lined with stores, shopping centers and restaurants. But it is showing its age bordering on being rundown, especially between Union Terrace and Holburn Street. The city council wants to revitalize the area but few actions have been taken. There is a Starbuck’s in the lower level of this building.

210 Union St, Aberdeen AB10 1TL, UK
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16 Gilcomston Church Entrance in Aberdeen, Scotland

Gilcomston South Church has a history of independent thinking. Back in 1945, the Reverend William Still adopted expository preaching. This entails reciting and then explaining each verse of the Bible sequentially to the congregation during progressive prayer services. In 2013, Reverend Dominic Smart announced he was leaving the Church of Scotland after the General Assembly decided to allow gay ministers. This was based on a landmark case involving Queen’s Cross Church located a few blocks away (see explanation in this gallery). Most of the church’s elders and members followed him. The Independent Evangelical congregation is now called the Gilcomston Church.

300 Union St, Aberdeen AB10 1TP, UK
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17 Gilcomston Church Rose Window in Aberdeen, Scotland

When I see a great architectural feature on an exquisite building, my fingers immediately zoom in the camera lens for a close up. This rose window deserves special attention. Set within a façade of granite are pink, sandstone mullions and tracery framing stained glass. In the center is a lily crucifix with the words “God With Us.” This landmark on Union Street was designed by William Smith and built in 1868.

300 Union St, Aberdeen AB10 1TP, UK
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18 Cable Subway Ventilator in Aberdeen, Scotland

This tall, blue, cast-iron tower at the intersection of Justice Mill Lane and Holburn Street seemed curious. Is it a monument and, if so, for what? Turns out this is a ventilator for the retired cable subway. Its Art Nouveau design by Hector Guimard was manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co. in Glasgow and then installed in 1905. Behind it is the cupola of the former Holburn Central Parish Church. The building was constructed in 1836 for the Church of Scotland and the tower was added in 1891. Today it is occupied by The City of God.

64 Justice Mill Ln, Aberdeen AB11 6EP, UK
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19 Brief City History of Aberdeen, Scotland

With a population of about 200,000 residents, Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city. The name means “mouth of the rivers” Dee and Don. The fishing village was founded along the North Sea in the 8th century and was chartered in 1179. In the 14th century, it was liberated from English rule by Robert the Bruce and then destroyed by Edward II of England. This pattern of decline reoccurred in the 17th century during the Wars of Three Kingdoms followed by the bubonic plague. Shipbuilding, textiles, paper, granite and fishing helped it recover in the 18th and 19th centuries. Aberdeen was further revitalized during the oil boom in the 1970s when it became the “Oil Capital of Europe.” Since the drop in oil prices, the economic future is uncertain. These row houses are adjacent to a five-acre public park named Bon Accord Terrace Gardens.

69 Hardgate, Aberdeen AB11 6UX, UK
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20 Former Melville Carden Place Church in Aberdeen, Scotland

This gothic tower has dominated the intersection of Garden Place and Albert Street since it was built in 1882. It was based on the design of architect Robert Wilson who was also an elder of the Carden Place United Free Church. Later it became Melville Carden Place Church. After the congregation moved to the Queen’s Cross Church (see photo in this gallery), the building was extensively remodeled into a two-story office complex called Six Carden Place.

8 Carden Pl, Aberdeen AB10 1UR, UK
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21 Queen’s Cross Church Spire in Aberdeen, Scotland

Queen’s Cross Parish Church is crowned with this elegant, grey granite spire. Since the church was built in 1881, it has a history of serving the special needs of a spectrum of ages, from elderly residences to nursey schoolers. They have always welcomed member diversity, such as the workers who arrived in the late 1970’s for the North Sea oil boom. Their current minister, Scott Rennie, also made history. He announced being gay before being elected in 2008. This appointment was challenged by the General Assembly, the Church of Scotland’s highest court. But in 2009, they agreed to allow his ministry. In 2015, they approved future ordinations of ministers in a civil partnership. Reverend Rennie is now married to his same-sex partner.

40 Albyn Pl, Aberdeen AB10 1YN, UK
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22 Rubislaw Church in Queen’s Cross Area of Aberdeen, Scotland

Rubislaw Church performs their religious services in this late 19th century sandstone building. However, the majority of their programs, resources and activities occur in the nearby Church Centre. Their mission to serve the local community may be getting increasingly difficult. They are located in Aberdeen’s West End at the intersection of Queen’s Gardens and Fountainhall Road. Known as the Queen’s Cross area, this neighborhood emanating from a roundabout with a Queen Victoria statue is filled with gorgeous, Victorian buildings. They have been increasingly renovated to become posh professional offices, exclusive eateries and mansions for millionaires. As of this writing, the minister’s Edwardian manse (house), purchased by the church in 1922, is on the market for over £1 million.

1 Queen's Gardens, Aberdeen AB15 4YD, UK
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