Charleston is a city renowned for its architecture. With over 2,500 historic buildings in the downtown area, eight different schools of architecture prevail: Colonial, Georgian, Federal, Classical Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Victorian, and Art Deco.
Each is intrinsically linked to a historical period and a direct reflection of Charleston’s cultural evolution – from the Neoclassical charm of Manigault House to the historic Edmondston-Alston House, which has stood on the harbourside since the great earthquake of 1886 and on through the American Civil War.
The city’s historic district occupies the peninsula’s tip, where careful restoration efforts continue to preserve its unique cultural identity. Here, tall and narrow houses are packed cheek-by-jowl, elegantly decorated with wrought-iron balconies, broad piazzas (or porches), characterful shutters, and flanked with leafy courtyards.
Arguably the most iconic buildings here are the pastel-hued mansions built in the ‘Charleston Style’ typical of the 18th century. This distinctive fashion is derived from the West Indies, where early British colonists were inspired by high-ceilinged houses designed to stay cool and sprawling piazzas on every level.
The picture-perfect Rainbow Row shows that colour is a significant element in Charleston’s aesthetic appeal. These merchant houses were given a colorful revamp in the aftermath of the Civil War, when the area had become rather downtrodden and dreary.
Many of the homes throughout downtown Charleston have plaques that explain their architectural origins, and resident Charlestonians are well-used to passers-by pausing to admire their dwellings. For architecture enthusiasts, a walking tour or carriage ride is highly recommended.