Since the beginning of the 1600s, the heraldic symbol of the lion and the unicorn has represented the United Kingdom. The lion is meant to symbolize the country of England, whereas the Unicorn signifies Scotland.
In 1690, the University of Glasgow commissioned a stonemason to erect a staircase leading to the entrance of the Principal’s Residence. William Riddel designed a flight of stairs that were topped with a statue of an unicorn on the left and a lion on the right.
This configuration was originally positioned 2 miles away on High Street, near Glasgow Cathedral, until the university relocated it to its current locale in 1870. The staircase was moved by horse and cart and reassembled stone by stone. It underwent several alterations prior to settling on its current position, at the backside of the Memorial Chapel.
In the 1930s, the great scientist and physicists Albert Einstein was awarded an honorary degree from the university. It was said that he greatly admired this stone balustrade. It may be because of this fanciful anecdote that students have been compelled to stroke the horn of the unicorn to bring them success in their studies.
Know Before You Go
The staircase is accessible at all times. It can be a bit tricky to locate. It is off South Front Street, and to the left of the main entrance. Just a few minutes walking distance from the Cloisters and the Hunterian Museum.