Situated on the banks of the Water of Leith on the edge of Edinburgh stands an 18th-century structure so beautiful it’s almost hard to believe it was built for a well. But this was no ordinary well. In the latter part of the 1700s, locals believed the waters of this natural spring had medicinal healing properties.
The ornate structure, designed by Scottish painter Alexander Nasmyth in 1789, displays how the city had embraced the Scottish Enlightenment. The building takes the style of a Greco-Roman temple, complete with Doric columns, a dome topped with a golden pineapple, and a statue of Hygieia, the Greek and Roman goddess of health.
For nearly two centuries, people came to St. Bernard’s Well for what they called “taking the waters.” They believed the mineral-rich spring water could cure a variety of ailments, including muscle pain, arthritis, and even blindness. The well gets its name from a saintly monk who is said to have lived in a cave nearby. It was eventually closed in the 1940s because the water contained arsenic and other impurities.
The interior of this impressive structure can still be explored today, though it’s only open to the public on certain days of the year. Inside, you’ll find a room with a decorative mosaic ceiling suggestive of a Roman temple. The room contains a pump adorned with a Grecian vase and a fireplace equipped with plumbing to dispense hot water.