Landmark Visitor's Guide



Getting Around


A tour of the city


Additional Information

Landmark Visitor's Guide


Edinburgh's history seems to surround its central fortification and this is the point where much of the earliest archaeological evidence has been uncovered. The lofty lump supporting Edinburgh Castle is the residue of a volcanic plug that resisted the forces of a huge glacier pushing eastward along what is now the Forth Valley. The strategic position of Castle Rock was long recognised by the Romans and their main adversaries, the Pictish tribes, as well as the powers that followed them.

In the Dark Ages, King Edwin of Northumbria and his Angle army invaded the area known as the Lothians. He built a fort on the strategic stone and it was called Dun Eadain meaning 'Fortress-on-a-Hill' later to become either Edwin's Burgh or Eadain's Burgh. A fledgling community slowly developed hugging the skirts of the protective stockade. In 1124, King David I decided to move his court and thus, the Scottish capital, from Dunfermline to Edinburgh after founding Holyrood Abbey there. From then on the town rapidly grew in importance and size. As animosity increased between the Scots and the English, Edinburgh's strategic importance grew also with its castle becoming more and more the focal point.

There is only one tenable approach to Edinburgh Castle via the eastward sloping Royal Mile and would-be attackers were forced to consider this. In 1313 some resolute assailants under the administration of Robert the Bruce scaled Castle Rock's formidable northern aspect and ramparts to retake the castle from the English. They then dismantled it and Bruce later granted the town a royal charter in 1329 as well as jurisdiction over the port of Leith which lead to greater trading opportunities and wealth. Rebuilt in 1356, the castle became not only a fortress but also a royal palace.

A defensive wall was erected around the area east of the castle in 1456 roughly defining the area we now know as the Old Town. Through the Renaissance period the small city flourished in a stable era until Scotland's defeat at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. A second wall, the Flodden Wall, was hurriedly thrown up after this defeat which was followed by a time of great instability culminating in the sacking of the town by the forces of Henry VIII.

On her return to Scotland, Mary set up court in Edinburgh's Holyrood Palace. In 1603 her son, James VI, with the Union of the Crowns, inherited the English throne and moved his Scottish court to London. In some ways this was the end of the Scottish monarchy as, despite his promises, James only returned to his native land once.

The last significant assault on Edinburgh Castle came in 1745 when the Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie once again wrested it, without much resistance, from English hands. The period of the Enlightenment continued and thrived following the upheavals and defeat of the Jacobite Rebellion and throughout the period of peace that followed. New ideas in science, philosophy and literature flourished without the inhibiting presence of nobility. Philosophers and writers such as David Hume, Adam Smith, Allan Ramsay, and even Robert Burns were products of this era. James Watt was inspired to invent the steam engine around this time.

Today, outside London, Edinburgh and its castle are the most popular attractions in the United Kingdom. The castle unfolds the various chapters of its long existence. Being consecutively a stronghold, palace, barracks and prison, it is not a beautiful set of buildings compared to Scotland's abundance of more archetypal castles, but it is an aggregation and reflection of the country's annals.

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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