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Edinburgh, sometimes also known as Auld Reekie, Edina or Embro, is the capital city of Scotland and home to the Scottish Parliament. In 2001, Edinburgh had a population of 448,624[1] and has since grown quite rapidly. On the basis of GDP per capita, Edinburgh is the second most prosperous city in the UK, behind London, and is Europe's sixth largest financial centre.[2] Edinburgh hosts the Edinburgh International Festival every August, as well as the Edinburgh Fringe festival, the largest festival of performing arts in the world. It has some of the most famous tourist sites in Britain, including Edinburgh Castle, and attracts about 13 million tourists each year. Edinburgh also hosts the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, as well as jazz, book and science festivals. Other notable events celebrated in Edinburgh include the Hogmanay street party (31st December), Burns Night (25th January), St. Andrew's Day (30th November), and the Beltane Fire Festival (30th April).[3] Edinburgh's "Old Town" and "New Town" districts were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. In 2007, Edinburgh became the first UNESCO "City of Literature."[4]


"Never was there such a host
From the fort of Eiddyn,
That would scatter abroad the mounted ravagers."

(from translation of "Y Gododdin")[5]

Signs have been found of human activity in the Edinburgh area dating to about 5000 BCE or earlier, and signs of fortifications (in Holyrood Park, Blackford Hill, and Craiglockhart Hill) have been dated to about 1000 BCE: Celtic and Roman occupants were followed by Northumbrians and Scots. The city's name is thought to come from the Brythonic "Din Eidyn" (Fort of Eidyn) the name given to a hillfort and known from the earliest known British poem "Y Gododdin", attributed to Aneirin in about 600 CE. The poem describes warriors feasting in a great hall before setting out to die in a heroic battle against the Saxons from which none returned. Burh, meaning "fortress", is a translation of the Brythonic Din. The poem (as preserved) is written in Old or Early Medieval Welsh -the language of the region; Gaelic, commonly thought of as the native language of Scotland, was only ever generally spoken in the highlands and western isles of Scotland. The poem includes an early mention of Arthur, but only to mention that he was not one of the warriors, and this may have been a late insertion.

Alternatively it has been proposed that the name Edinburgh is derived from the Old English for "Edwin's fort", Edwin being a 7th century king of Northumbria, and burgh meaning "fortress" or "walled group of buildings".

Edinburgh has been a Royal Burgh since the 12th century, and has been the recognized capital of Scotland since the 15th century. Edinburgh is built on and among a series of hills [6], situated between the Firth of Forth to the north and west, and the Pentland Hills to the south.

The Wealthy City

Statue of Wellington at the east end of Princes Street

"Here Wealth still swells the golden tide,

As busy trade his labours plies;

There Architecture's noble pride

Bids elegance and splendour rise;

Here justice, from her native skies

High wields her balance and her rod;

There Learning, with his eagle eyes,

Seeks Science in her coy abode."

These lines are from "Address to Edinburgh" by Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scotland's most famous poet, who evidently was capable of flashes of mediocrity. Today, Edinburgh is still a wealthy city, with high property values and many millionaire residents[7] It has the strongest economy of any city in the UK except London.[8] It is home to the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Executive, the Justiciary Office (which provides the administrative services for the High Court of Justiciary and the Court of Criminal Appeal), and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group[9] (the second largest bank in Europe and the fifth largest in the world). The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is one of the UK's leading universities. Edinburgh also has three newer Universities, Heriot-Watt University, which began as a school for technical education of the working classes, Napier University, a polytechnic that was given University status in 1992, and Queen Margaret University, which began in 1875 as 'The Edinburgh School of Cookery', founded as part of a campaign for better education and improved career opportunities for women. [10]

The Windy City

Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in one of the vilest climates under heaven. She is liable to be beaten upon by all the winds that blow, to be drenched with rain, to be buried in cold sea fogs out of the east, and powdered with the snow as it comes flying southward from the Highland hills. The weather is raw and boisterous in winter, shifty and ungenial in summer, and a downright meteorological purgatory in the spring. The delicate die early... RL Stevenson

At the foot of Leith Walk, close to the St James shopping centre (whose design is a popular topic of critical comment), is a statue of Sherlock Holmes, commemorating his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (1859-1930) who was a graduate of Edinburgh University. Although the Sherlock Holmes stories are set in London, the dark and dank fog-ridden atmosphere is thought to have had its inspiration in Edinburgh[11]. Edinburgh’s weather is at best unpredictable, but is generally cool or dank with a sharp wind. On cloudless days in Summer, when the wind dies down, a cold sea fog (known as a "haar") often descends on the city, a metereologically interesting phenomenon of temperature inversion. Edinburgh’s winters are mild, and differ mainly from the summers in their much shorter daylength. Edinburgh is a city that is good for children in the sense that, for much of the year, there is little else to do in the evenings.

Snow is rarely seen these days in Edinburgh, except on the summit of Arthur's Seat. However, in February 1870, enough fell that a crowd of students on the South Bridge, started to throw snowballs at passers-by. By midday, when a strong body of police arrived on the scene, the situation had escalated into what The Scotsman later described as "A Serious Snowball Riot At the University". Under a hail of snowballs from the students, the police at first retreated, but on charging again forced the students into the university, who locked the gates behind them. Two more units of police constables were brought in; one entered via the back gate, the other by the main door, and together they overcame the rioters, demonstrating that the truncheon is mightier than the snowball. Thirty five students were arrested, five of whom were brought to trial on a charge of "Mobbing, Rioting and Assault", and were found not guilty.[12]

The Old Town

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View to the Old Town, from Calton Hill, with the Pentland Hills in the distance

— skulking jail-birds; unkempt, bare-foot children; big-mouthed, robust women, in a sort of uniform of striped flannel petticoat and short tartan shawl; among these, a few supervising constables and a dismal sprinkling of mutineers and broken men from higher ranks in society, with some mark of better days upon them, like a brand. RL Stevensonon the inhabitants of the Old Town

Edinburgh in the 16th century was a walled city enclosing what is now the Old Town; little of the original walls remains, but the street plan of the Old Town is essentially that of the medieval city, and many of its buildings are extremely old. By the end of the 17th century, the relative safety of the city in a generally turbulent country had led it to become both affluent and overcrowded, with a population of about 60,000; bounded to the east by the sea, and to the north by a large lake that had become a large open sewer (the Nor’ Loch) it had little scope to expand. The author Daniel Defoe declared "I believe that in no city in the world so many people have so little room." The city had no adequate sanitation (chamber pots were emptied from windows above with the warning cry of Gardy loo! from the French, "Prenez garde a l'eau!"). It was nicknamed “Auld Reekie” not after its distinctive smell, but from the plume of smoke that arose from the Old Town and which could be seen for many miles. Its atmosphere and its large population of prostitutes, itinerants and thieves eventually encouraged its wealthy burghers to plot to abandon the city for a “New Town”, to be built on the fields north of the Nor' Loch.

Walking through the Old Town, it can be hard to escape the sense of walking through the excreta of 1,000 years. Many of the names are resonant of history - Canongate and Cowgate, Tron Kirk and Mercat Cross, Grassmarket and Lawnmarket (where offal was once sold; the pink and fatty sausage meat that is a traditional part of scottish breakfasts is known as "lorne"). In many other cities in the UK, development has preserved mainly just the architectural relics of the rich, but here there is a sense that something of the ordinary people has survived; the Old Town has evolved gradually over several hundred years rather than being consciously preserved, and that continuity of history seems almost tangible. For example, the Grassmarket is now filled with shops, bars, and restaurants, but sections of the Old Town wall can be traced on the north (castle) side by a series of steps that run from Grassmarket to Johnston Terrace above. The best-preserved section can be found by crossing to the south side and climbing the steps of the lane called the Vennel. Here, the 16th-century Flodden Wall comes in from the east and turns south at Telfer's Wall, a 17th-century extension. A cobbled cross at the east end of the Grassmarket marks the site of the town gallows. Among those hanged here were many Covenanters, who rose up against Charles I's efforts to enforce Anglican ideology on the Scottish people. The Duke of Rothes issued the death sentence to one of these with the words "Then let him glorify God in the Grassmarket." The last of the Covenant martyrs, James Renwick, died here on 17th Febrruary 1668. The last person to be hanged in the Grassmarket was James Andrews, hanged on the 4th of February 1784 for a robbery in Hope Park [13]

Today the Old Town is a thriving and diverse area. It includes a gay area (known locally as the “pink triangle”); the televised comments of American evangelist Pat Robertson "In Scotland, you can't believe how strong the homosexuals are. It's just simply unbelievable," [4] became for a while a popular slogan on T-shirts in the city. It also includes an area of sex clubs and shops (the “pubic triangle”).

The New Town

(CC) Photo: Citizendium

‘the Modern Ruin’ as it has been called, an imposing object from far and near, and giving Edinburgh, even from the sea, that false air; of a Modern Athens which has earned for her so many slighting speeches. It was meant to be a National Monument; and its present state is a very suitable monument to certain national characteristics. Robert Louis Stevenson[14]

Firm ideas for a New Town emerged after the suppression of the 1745 Jacobite Rising cumulating in the Battle of Culloden in 1746; in 1746 the City of Edinburgh held a competition, won by 21-year-old architect James Craig, whose initial idea of a ‘patriotic’ street plan in the shape of a Union Jack, developed into a plan for a grid-iron system with 3 main streets - Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street running North-South with the two large, formal squares at either end - St Andrew's Square and St George's Square, renamed Charlotte Square after King George's wife, Queen Charlotte, in 1785.

Thus the Nor’ Loch was drained in 1759, to become what is now Princes Street Gardens, and in 1790 an earthen causeway across the bed of the lake was built (The “Mound”) to connect the Old Town with the new development. The New Town, the first “planned city” development in the world, is now a World Heritage site ; its combination of Gothic and Greek architectural styles aimed to establish Edinburgh as the “Athens of the North.” Its stone residential buildings generally house four floors of apartments, one below street level; the rooms are spacious, high ceilinged and elegant, and now, as then, are very expensive. The architect for many of the most famous buildings was Robert Adam, who designed Register House, (built from 1773 onwards) and Charlottte Square (built in 1791). The official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, Bute House, is on Charlotte Square.

The main commercial street of the New Town, Princes Street, runs from The Balmoral Hotel (opened in 1902 as the north British Hotel) in the east to the Caledonian Hotel (opened in 1903) in the west. The street was originally named St Giles Street after the patron saint of Edinburgh, and was renamed Princes Street after King George III’s sons (Prince George, the future George IV, and the Duke of York). Few of the buildings on Princes Street itself are particularly noteworthy, but an exception is the Department Store "Jenners" (opened as "Kennington & Jenner" in 1838), an old Edinburgh institution. Almost the whole premises of Jenners were destroyed by fire on 26 November 1892, and architect William Hamilton Beattie was commissioned to create a new building, built in the Renaissance style using pink sandstone and lavishly decorated. Jenners was the oldest independent department store in the world until 2005, when it was bought by the House of Fraser.

Princes Street is developed only on its south facing side, overlooking the Gardens and facing the Old Town, which was abandoned to the prostitutes, the poor, and the generally undeserving elements. On the Mound stand the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Exhibition Centre, two imposing buildings that expressed the cultural pretensions of the Edinburgh elite. From the South East, the New Town is overlooked by Calton Hill, which hosts several iconic monuments and buildings, including the National Monument to the Napoleonic Dead, Nelson's Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, the New Parliament House (the Royal High School) and the City Observatory. The National Monument, designed by Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair, was modelled on the Parthenon in Athens. It is commonly believed that the monument was never finished, because the money for it ran out, and as a result, it has been called Edinburgh's Disgrace or Edinburgh's Folly. However, the unfinished look is exactly as the architects intended. [15]

At Hogmanay (the New Year), Edinburgh surrenders itself to an excess of drinking and merrymaking with a large street party on Princes Street. In the rest of the UK January 1st is a national holiday, in Scotland, January 2nd is also a holiday, to enable its citizens to recover.

In holiday seasons, busking bagpipers in kilts accept money from tourists on Princes Street, possibly offered in an effort to make them stop playing. The bagpipes is an instrument best played a great distance; once played by clan warriors amassing for battle to inspire fear and trepidation in the enemy, bagpipes were outlawed as instruments of war after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. Lately, the pipes have been adapted to the nostalgic and sentimental tastes of expatriate Scots. However, the sounds of a lone bagpiper playing on the Castle battlements at the end of each performance of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo are a fond memory for many visitors to Edinburgh, even those cynics who watched in the hope that he might fall off.

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the main street in Edinburgh's Old Town, and runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse, a distance of just over a mile. The New Scottish Parliament building is at the foot of the Royal Mile, opposite the Palace, and at the opposite end the Royal Mile ascends Castle Rock, a plug of black basalt sealing the vent of an extinct volcano. The Castle Rock is crowned by Edinburgh Castle, one of the UK's leading tourist attractions. Demolished by Robert the Bruce in 1313 as part of his "scorched earth" policy, the castle was rebuilt in 1371, though most of the present structure dates from the 16th century and later. It includes St Margaret's Chapel - Edinburgh's oldest building, dating from the 1100s, and it houses the Stone of Destiny. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held every Summer in the esplanade outside the Castle.

(CC) Photo: Citizendium
View down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

St Giles' Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is in Parliament Square on the Royal Mile; its four main pillars are dated to 1190. Just outside the kirk, inset into the pavement is a cobblestone mosaic in the shape of a heart - the "Heart of Midlothian", that marked the entrance to Edinburgh's 15th century tolbooth. Originally an office for collecting tolls, the tolbooth became a prison, with a scaffold outside. Prisoners would spit on the door of the tolbooth and this tradition is still preserved as the custom of spitting on the Heart of Midlothian. Amongst those publicly hanged there is Thomas Aikenhead (c. 1678 - 1697), a student who was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy. His indictment read:

... the prisoner had repeatedly maintained... that theology was a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the moral doctrines of philosophers, and partly of poetical fictions and extravagant chimeras...That the Holy Scriptures were stuffed with such madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that he admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them... from the indictment of Thomas Aikenhead[16]

(CC) Photo: Citizendium
The World's End public house was the site of the last reported sighting of two young women, murdered in 1977. In 2007, a convicted killer and sex offender was brought to trial on DNA evidence, but the trial collapsed amidst controversy[3]

Deacon Brodie's Tavern on the Royal Mile perpetuates the memory of Deacon William Brodie (hanged in 1788). Brodie led a double life; he was a qualified wood-worker and a pillar of the community who is known to have met Robert Burns and the painter Sir Henry Raeburn, but also a heavy gambler with five illegitimate children. He began to take wax impressions of the keys to the houses in which he was working, later returning at night to rob them. His double life is said to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's story of "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde." Brodie's Close off the Royal Mile is named after his father.

The Royal Mile contains entrances to many small alleys and closes, with picturesque names and often interesting histories. Mary King Close[17] was one such Close. In 1753, development of a new building, the Royal Exchange (designed by John Adam) on the Royal Mile involved building over Mary King Close. The Royal Exchange is now the City Chambers – the administrative centre of the City, and what was once the street level of Mary King Close remained intact, though now completely overbuilt. The Close was forgotten, until in 1928 a council workman discovered an entrance to it. The Close is now open to visitors and is a major tourist attraction, encouraged by convenient tales of haunting.

John Knox House on the Royal Mile is a town house, built before 1490, that displays exhibits about John Knox, a Protestant leader born between 1505 and 1515, who died at Edinburgh on 24 November, 1572. John Knox is a controversial figure in Scotland's history, who was appointed minister of the Church of St. Giles' when the Reformed Protestant religion was ratified by law in Scotland in 1560. His History of the Reformation made him a leading figure in the Scottish reformation. He was outspoken in his attacks on the Catholic clergy of Scotland, accusing them of being "gluttons, wantons and licentious revelers." The distaste was mutual; according to the Catholic Encyclopedia [18], "permeated with the spirit of the Old Testament and with the gloomy austerity of the ancient prophets, [Knox] displays neither in his voluminous writings nor in the record of his public acts the slightest recognition of the teachings of the Gospel, or of the gentle, mild, and forgiving character of the Christian dispensation."

The Tron Kirk, at the intersection of South Bridge and the Royal Mile, is a visitor centre for the Old Town. A "tron" was a public weighbridge, and the Kirk, built in 1637,was named after a salt tron than once stood on that site.


While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the chief, puts sunshine on leith
I’ll thank him for his work.
And your birth and my birth."

(Lyrics of "Sunshine on Leith", 1988, by The Proclaimers)

Edinburgh has a port, Leith [19], where Edinburgh's river, the "Water of Leith", meets the sea at the mouth of the Firth of Forth. There is evidence that Leith has been an active port for at least a thousand years ("That there was a harbour in 1313 is certain, for at that date all the ships in it were burned by the English invaders.")[20]). In 1548 Mary, Queen of Scots, sailed from Leith for France, and thirteen years later she landed there again on 19 August 1561, riding to Holyrood the following day to assume her throne. At that time, if Edinburgh was held by one party, Leith would almost certainly contain the headquarters of the other, and Leith soon became the centre of opposition to the imprisoned Queen. In 1571 the Edinburgh party attacked their opponents at Leith in the 'Lang Fight', whose duration was in inverse proportion to the number of victims, lasting all day with just 36 dead. But in its aftermath, antagonism deepened, and even to belong to Edinburgh or Leith could be enough to cost a man his life.

Leith was recently a disreputable area with a multitude of abandoned warehouses, unsavoury pubs and a thriving red-light district, and was the setting for the novel "Trainspotting" by Irvine Welsh[21] that featured a cast of heroin addicts. In 1986, Edinburgh was labelled as the AIDS capital of Europe, because of the relatively high incidence of HIV spread by intravenous drug users, though this accolade is probably undeserved (possibly belonging to Barcelona [5]). Leith is now largely gentrified, housing the Scottish Executive and an extensive coastal regeneration development has swept away many of the traces of its former character. West of Leith is Newhaven, once a fishing community. The old fishmarket is now a Heritage Centre, and it records a curiously tribal matriarchal society, run by fishwives, that persisted until the 1950's when overfishing finally ended a unique way of life.

Edinburgh also has a gently decaying seaside area, Portobello: a resort area in days when travel to sunnier climes was unaffordable or foreign food suspected. The first bathing machines were reported at Portobello in 1795, and a pier with a camera obscura was built in 1871, designed by Thomas Bouch, designer of the ill-fated Tay Railway Bridge. The pier is long gone. Just beyond Portobello is Musselburgh, home to one of the more unlikely and little used race courses in the UK, first opened in 1816[22] .

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby - died 14th January 1872 - aged 16 years - Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all". Inscription on statue, Edinburgh

When so many stories of Edinburgh are wrapped in sentimental myth, it comes as something of a surprise that the most sentimental of all is based in fact. The story of Greyfriars Bobby is of a small dog who tended his master's grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard for fourteen years.[23]

Greyfriars Kirk has an important place in Scottish history; opened in 1620, it was the first church built in Edinburgh after the Reformation. In 1638 the National Covenant, a protest against attempts by King Charles 1 to exert control over the Scottish Church, was signed in front of the pulpit of Greyfriars Kirk, and in 1679, about 1200 Covenanters were imprisoned in Greyfriars Kirkyard pending trial. The present Kirkyard contains "The Martyrs Monument" commemorating the hundred or so Covenanters who were subsequently executed.("Halt, passenger; take heed what thou dost see, This tomb doth show for what some men did die.") The Kirkyard is the burial place of many of these and of many other notable Scots. One of the graves is that of Duncan Ban MacIntyre (d 1812) who fought against the Jacobites in 1745, never learned to read, and sold illicit whisky in the Lawnmarket to make a living, but who is recognised as one of the most important Gaelic poets of his time. Dr Robert Lee, the minister of Greyfriars at the time, was a leader of a movement to reform worship in Presbyterian churches. He introduced to the Kirk the first post-Reformation stained glass windows, and one of the first organs in a Presbyterian Church in Scotland.[24]

John Gray, who came to Edinburgh in around 1850, was a night watchman for the Edinburgh Police, who walked his rounds in the company of a Skye Terrier called Bobby (a nickname for a police constable). John died of tuberculosis on the 15th February 1858, and was buried in the Kirkyard. Bobby refused to leave his master's grave for any great length of tine, despite the efforts of James Brown, the gardener and keeper of Greyfriars, to evict him. According to some accounts he remained on the grave even in the worst weather conditions, though others described him as staying frequently on the grave, but leaving regularly for meals (and presumably exercise and toileting) and in extreme weather. In the end Brown gave up and provided a shelter for Bobby by placing sacking beneath two tablestones at the side of John Gray’s grave. Bobby’s fame spread, and almost on a daily basis the crowds would gather at the entrance of the Kirkyard waiting for the one o'clock gun. (Since 1852, the One O'Clock Gun was fired every day except Sunday from the nearby Castle battlements, just as the time ball on top of Nelson's Monument, falls. Both are signals to the ships in the Firth of Forth as a check on their chronometers.) At the sound of the gun, Bobby would leave the grave in the company of William Dow, a local joiner, for a meal at the same Coffee House that he had frequented with his master.[25]

In 1867 a new bye-law required all dogs in the city to be licensed or else be destroyed. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Chambers, paid Bobby's licence, and presented him with a collar inscribed "Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed". The collar is now at the Museum of Edinburgh, in Chambers' Street. Bobby died in 1872, and a life-size bronze statue of Bobby sculptured by William Brody was unveiled in November 1873, at the junction of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row, opposite the entrance to Greyfriars' Kirk. By tradition, passers-by rub the nose, giving it a constant shine.

Arthur's Seat

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Arthur's Seat, the hill in the centre of Edinburgh that overlooks the new Scottish Parliament (bottom left) and "Dynamic Earth" (bottom right)
Then, as for Arthur's Seat, I'm sure it is a treat
Most worthy to be seen, with its rugged rocks and pastures green,
And the sheep browsing on its sides
To and fro, with slow-paced strides

(from "Edinburgh" by William McGonagall[26]] (1825-1902), either Scotland's worst poet, or a satirist of genius[27])

In the centre of Edinburgh, enclosed within Holyrood Park (which is adjacent to the Royal Palace of Holyrood) is Arthur's Seat, the basalt lava plug of a long extinct volcano, last active around 335 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period. The hill rises to 251 m (823 feet), and overlooks Edinburgh's Old Town to the West. The most famous of its rock faces is off the Radical Road at the south end of Salisbury Crags. The hard dolerite of the Crags lies above softer sandstones, and the boundary between them is irregular, revealing how the dolerite is formed from intrusive magma that squeezed between the sandstone layers. James Hutton (1726-1797), the 'father of geology', used these rocks to argue that the sandstone and dolerite were formed by different processes, and at different times.[28]

Two stony banks on the east side of Arthur's Seat are the remains of an Iron Age hill-fort. In 1836, seventeen tiny wooden coffins each containing a carved figure were found in a small cave just below the summit. It has been suggested that they may be associated with witchcraft or that they were intended as memorials to the victims of William Burke (1792-1828) and William Hare (1804-ca 1860), who sold bodies for dissection to the anatomist Dr Robert Knox of the Edinburgh Medical College, and turned to murder to satisfy the demand[29]. Burke and Hare murdered at least 16 people and perhaps as many as 30. Burke was hanged on 28th January 1828 (Hare escaped execution by givinig evidence against Burke), and his body was given to the medical school to be dissected. A pocket-book made from his skin is on display in the Surgeon's Hall Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh[30], and his skeleton is displayed at the Anatomy Resource Centre of the University of Edinburgh[31]

At the foot of Arthur's Seat is the Sheep Heid Inn[32] close to the 12th century church of Duddingston. The Inn claims to be Britain's oldest, possibly dating to 1360. It also claims to be the site of the "resurrection" of Maggie Dickson, a Musselburgh fishwife who was publicly hanged in Edinburgh's Grassmarket in 1724 (or 1728 by some sources) for "the murder of her bastard child" (according to a 19th century broadsheet[33], which erroneously gives the date of execution as 1813). According to the Inn's version, the Inn was hosting her funeral entourage when a groan was heard from her coffin. The coffin lid was prized off, revealing a still living Maggie, who was given a reviving dram of whisky. Having been convicted and hanged once, Maggie couldn’t be so punished again and went on to live a long life bearing several children. The factual basis of the story is uncertain, but Maggie Dickson is also remembered today in the name of a public house in West Bow, adjoining the Grassmarket.

The Scottish Parliament

"There is hope in honest error; None in the icy perfections of the mere stylist"
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), quoted on the wall of the New Parliament Building
(CC) Photo: Citizendium
Detail of the controversial Scottish Parliament Building.

When the Scotland Act 1998 was passed by the UK Parliament, it led to the establishment of the first Scottish Parliament since 1707. In 1999, the first members of the new Parliament were elected; at first, they met at the Assembly Hall at the top of The Mound. However, a new building was deemed necessary, and the chosen site was in Holyrood, opposite to the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse but in an otherwise relatively depressed area of the city. The design for the new building was opened to competition, won by a team led by Spanish architect Enric Miralles. Inspired by the surrounding landscape, the flower paintings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and "upturned boats on the seashore", Miralles developed a design that he said was a building "growing out of the land"[6]. Over the course of the project, costs escalated from an initial estimate of £40 million to a final cost of over £420 million, an increase that did not altogether escape comment. The building has won many architectural awards, and attracts strong opinions for and against ("Every day that passes reveals some new and unexpected detail of Miralles's posthumous masterpiece. Here, an extraordinary courtyard, there, a wall with windows like you have never seen before. It is hard to make sense of such an original design."[7]). The interior is generally thought well of, and viewed from above it is spectacular, but many dislike the exterior appearance from ground level. That appearance is not markedly embellished by the concrete bollards and large concrete, blast-proof walls that were a late addition to parts of the building, prompted by fears of terrorist attacks.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh has six constituencies: Edinburgh North and Leith, Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh Pentlands, Edinburgh South, Edinburgh West, and Musselburgh. Each elects one Member of Parliament by a "first past the post" system. The larger Lothian region elects seven additional members of the Parliament, chosen by a form of proportional representation.

For elections to the UK Parliament, Edinburgh has five constituencies: Edinburgh South, Edinburgh West, Edinburgh South West, Edinburgh North and Leith, and Edinburgh East.

Edinburgh's Churches

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St Giles' Kirk.

St Giles' Cathedral [34] on the Royal Mile is the historic City Church of Edinburgh, founded in the 1120's and named after the patron saint of Edinburgh (a 7th century hermit who lived in France). Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St Giles' is the "Mother Church" of Presbyterianism and contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland's chivalric company of knights headed by the Queen). St Giles' has a notable collection of stained glass windows dating from the 1870s onwards, one of the most beautiful of which was designed by Edward Burne-Jones, and made in the workshops of William Morris.

Edinburgh has many other imposing churches and, like all of the UK, few church-goers ("The Edinburgh University was a great cultural centre of theology. I don't know, we need to pray for them..." - Pat Robertson). Some of its churches have been put to alternative use; Frankenstein’s on George IV street is a wine bar in an 18th century Pentecostal church building of strikingly Gothic design. The "New North Free Church" on Bristow Place is now the Bedlam Theatre, a student-run theatre and late-night improvisational comedy venue during the Fringe Festival. The theatre is named after the Bedlam madhouse, which was attached to the Edinburgh Charity Workhouse behind nearby Teviot Place [35].

The Festival City

(CC) Photo: Citizendium
Looking down from the top of the Mound to Princes Street, the National Gallery is on the left; the city is crowded with visitors to the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Edinburgh International Festival, inaugurated in 1947, is a programme of drama and classical music featuring theatre companies and orchestras from all parts of the world, performed from the end of July until early September each year. While this remains a cultural centrepiece, The International Festival is now dwarfed in popularity by the Edinburgh Fringe festival, now the largest arts festival in the world, with a bewildering array of music, drama, comedy, circus, dance, physical theatre, and other events that simply defy classification. In 2011, the Fringe comprised 41,689 performances of 2,542 shows in 258 venues, involving an estimated 18,000 performers. [36] By 2008, comedy had become such a dominant presence within the Fringe that it was given its own brand label the "Edinburgh Comedy Festival", making it instantly the largest comedy festival in the world. T on the Fringe, a popular music offshoot of the Fringe, began in 2000.

The Edinburgh International Science Festival is held every April. On the night of 30 April, the Beltane Fire Festival takes place on Calton Hill, comprising a procession followed by performances inspired by pagan spring fertility rites. Tigerfest, an independent music festival and the Childrens International Theatre Festival are in May; the Edinburgh International Film Festival (the longest continually running film festival in the world) is in June; the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is in July; and the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Edinburgh Art Festival are in August. Throughout August, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo occupies the Castle Esplanade every night, with an international programme of military bands and displays: each performance ends with a lament from a lone piper on the Castle battlements, followed by fireworks. Edinburgh Mela Festival in August combines an arts programme with opportunities to sample food and crafts from a range of cultures. In October, The Scottish International Storytelling Festival occupies the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, with guest storytellers from across Scandinavia. In December, the centre of Edinburgh is filled with street markets, including a German market, special events and an outdoor ice-rink in Princes Street Gardens. This is a mere prelude to Hogmanay, during which a Viking longship is ceremonially burnt on Calton Hill after a torchlight procession. On New Year's eve itself, the central event was once a simple street party held on Princes Street and the Royal Mile, but in 1996, more than 300,000 people attended. Now, the central street party is a ticketed event, with only 100,000 tickets issued.

Famous Residents

(CC) Photo: Citizendium
Statue of David Hume, on the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh is home to novelists JK Rowling[37], Ian Rankin [38] and Alexander McCall-Smith[39], who is a professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. JK Rowling began her saga of boy wizard Harry Potter as a single mother, living on benefits, often writing in Edinburgh coffee houses (including the Elephant House on George IV bridge) to save money on heating. Ian Rankin’s novels portray Edinburgh as a dark place of corrupt politicians, small-time gangsters, seedy bars, vandal-ridden housing estates and drug-dealers, in marked contrast to McCall-Smith’s elegant and polite portrayal of a genteel city of middle class affectations.

Edinburgh was also a centre of the Scottish Enlightenment, home to many great thinkers including David Hume (1711-1776) who according to RL Stevenson, "ruined Philosophy and Faith" [40], and the economist Adam Smith (1723-1790), the author of The Wealth of Nations. Hume has a statue on the Royal Mile, and one for Smith is planned[41]. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), the telephone pioneer, was born in Edinburgh, as were:

  • John Napier (1550-1617), a mathematician mainly remembered for logarithms and the decimal point.
  • Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), poet, and father of the painter, also called Allan Ramsay (1713-1784). A statue of Allan Ramsay senior stands above the Floral Clock at the top of the Mound; his pastoral collection "The Gentle Shepherd" formed the basis of John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera."
  • James Lind (1716-1794), credited with discovering the cause of scurvy.[42]
  • James Hutton (1726-1797), the "Father of Geology" whose theory of Uniformitarianism provided an explanation of the geological history of the earth, which had "no vestige of a beginning, no concept of an end".
  • Andrew Bell (1726-1809), engraver, who co-founded the Encyclopaedia Britannica with the printer and bookseller Colin Macfarqhar. He produced most of the engravings for the first four editions of the Encycopaedia, and became its sole owner after Macfarquhar's death in 1793. The Encyclopaedia was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh as the Encyclopædia Britannica, or, A dictionary of arts and sciences, compiled upon a new plan.
  • James Boswell (1740-1795), known for his journals and diaries. These included notes of his tour of Scotland with Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who was no fan of Scotland. When asked what he thought of it, Johnson is quoted as saying "That it is a very vile country, to be sure, Sir." When reminded that God made it, he replied, "Certainly he did; but we must always remember that he made it for Scotchmen, and comparisons are odious, Mr. S------; but God made hell."
  • Robert Fergusson(1750-74), a poet who died young, but whose verse inspired Robert Burns
  • Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823), portrait painter [43]; Scotland's best known painter. Perhaps his best known work is Reverend Robert Walker (1755 - 1808) Skating on Duddingston Loch which hangs in the National Gallery on Princes Street
  • William McGonagall (1830-1902), widely regarded as the world's worst poet. A good example is his poem " Beautiful Edinburgh"("Magnificent city of Edinburgh, I must conclude my muse,/But to write in praise of thee I cannot refuse./I will tell the world boldly without dismay/You have the biggest college in the world at the present day.")
  • James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) whose contributions to the study of electro-magnetism prepared the way for quantum physics, and is regarded as one of the world's greatest physicists.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), novelist and poet. His best known works are Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886).[44]

Others who lived in Edinburgh, though not born there, include:

  • Daniel Defoe (ca 1659-1731), the author of Robinson Crusoe, was sent to live in Edinburgh in 1706 as a "secret agent" of the English, to promote the Act of Union of 1707.[45]
  • William Cullen (1710-1790). The leading British physician of the 18th century, Cullen held chairs in chemistry, theory of medicine, and practice of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He recognised the importance of the mind in healing, and was the first to describe the value of administering placebo treatments [46]; the American poet William Cullen Bryant was named after him.
  • James Tytler (1721-1804) a prolific writer and outrageous rake, who was the first Briton to ascend in a hot-air balloon
  • Adam Ferguson (1723-1816), who was a Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh is known as the "father of Sociology".
  • Robert Adam (1728-1792), the architect, was born in Kirkaldy but moved to Edinburgh as a child; He attended Edinburgh High School and studied at Edinburgh University but did not graduate [47]. Robert's father William was also an architect best known for transforming Hopetoun House into a grand mansion, and is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Robert is buried in Westminster Abbey.
  • John Clerk (1728-1812) was an expert on naval tactics. In his Essay on Naval Tactics (1779, published 1790), Clerk proposed the tactic of "cutting the line" (sailing into the enemy's line of ships and attacking the rear with the whole force of the attacking fleet). Horatio Nelson used Clerk's work in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, to win the most significant naval battle of the Napoleonic wars.
  • Joseph Black (1728-1799), a founder of thermochemistry, studied medicine at Edinburgh.
  • Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was educated at the Old High School in Edinburgh. The writer and critic Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) became rector of Edinburgh University in 1866.
  • James Barry (1795-1865) was educated at Edinburgh University, became a military surgeon and rose to be Inspector General in charge of military hospitals; Barry is believed to have been born a woman, but who chose to live as a man in order to become a surgeon.[48]
  • Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870), obstetrician and pioneer in the field of anaesthetics, attended Edinburgh University from the age of 14, graduating in 1832. After being appointed to a Chair of Midwifery in 1840, he developed the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic in surgery and midwifery despite medical, moral and religious opposition. Only after Queen Victoria used this anaesthetic during the birth of Prince Leopold (1853) was its use generally accepted. In 1866, Simpson became the first person to be knighted for services to medicine. Edinburgh's Simpson Memorial Maternity Hospital is named in his honour.
  • J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), author of Peter Pan received an M.A. from the University of Edinburgh in 1882
  • Tony Blair was educated at Fettes College, and Gordon Brown is a graduate of Edinburgh University.


The two principal professional association football clubs in Edinburgh are Heart of Midlothian F.C.[49] ("Hearts, aka "Jam Tarts") whose ground is at Tynecastle, and Hibernian FC[50] (The "Hibs"), who play at Easter Road. Both play in the Scottish Premier League. Football is generally thought to be Scotland's national game, so the failure of the national side to qualify for major competitions is a recurrent and popular topic of informed conversation in pubs. Hearts, founded in 1874, are said to be named after a dance hall, which itself was named from Sir Walter Scott's novel The Heart of Midlothian rather than directly after the site of the scaffold on the Royal Mile. However, as the Heart of Midlothian symbol is directly outside the Mother Kirk of Scottish Presbyterianism, Hearts is often thought of as a "Protestant" side, while Hibs were founded as a charity side to raise money for the city's Catholic Irish immigrants. However there is little trace of any sectarian distinction between their respective fans today (if indeed any know the difference between Catholicism and Presbyterianism), in stark contrast with traditional sectarian rivalry between Glasgow clubs Celtic and Rangers.

But as football is to Scotland, so rugby is to Edinburgh, which has a rich tradition of rugby football, long fostered by its many private schools (unusually for Scotland, a relatively high proportion of the children in Edinburgh are educated privately, by a long-standing tradition). Edinburgh Rugby Club[51] is one of the two professional Scottish teams that play in the top tier of European competition, both it and the national side[52] play at the Murrayfield Stadium[53], site of many a glorious defeat.

Golf (or "goff" to those who cannot pronounce the letter 'l') is often claimed to be a game of Scottish invention, with one theory being that its name is from the Scots word "gowf" meaning "to strike, or cuff". There are more than twenty golf courses within the city limits. Bruntsfield Links in the shadows of Edinburgh Castle is the oldest short-hole gold course in the world - golf has been played there since the 1700's, when The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh was founded. The Bruntsfield Links Society, founded in 1761, shared the use of Bruntsfield Links for many years with the Burgess Society. The Links are overlooked by The Golf Tavern[54], established in 1456.

Despite its climate, Scotland has a long history of playing cricket; the first recorded cricket match in Scotland was played at Schaw Park, Alloa, in September 1785, and Aberdeenshire has more cricketers per head of population than anywhere in the world except Calcutta and Delhi. The national cricket team plays its home matches at The Grange in Stockbridge, Edinburgh; it competes in international one-day competitions, and is a leader among the second tier (non test-playing) cricketing nations.[55] In 2005, Scotland prepared to face the leading cricket nation Australia in "the biggest event in the history of Scottish cricket" [56] "Dozens of portable lavatories" were hired, a capacity crowd (well, the ground only has 3000 seats) turned up, and the match was to be broadcast live by the BBC. “It’ll be a test for us but all the players will be pumped,” said Scotland's captain. Sadly, rain prevented any play. [57]

Edinburgh is represented at ice hockey by the Edinburgh Capitals [58], who play at Murrayfield Ice Rink, and at baseball by the Edinburgh Diamond Devils [59]. The Edinburgh Eagles are apparently a student ice hockey team [8] who also play baseball [9], as well as amateur rugby league [10] and ladies handball[11].

Edinburgh has hosted national and international sports events including the World Student Games, the Commonwealth Games in 1970 (for which the Royal Commonwealth Pool was built)and 1986, and the inaugural Commonwealth Youth Games in 2000. The Edinburgh Marathon has been held in the city since 1999; more than 13,000 take part each year.[60].


  1. 'Edinburgh Comparisons: population and age structure'. City of Edinburgh Council.
  2. 'Edinburgh UK's second most prosperous city'. The Scotsman, 3rd March 2005.
  3. Edinburgh Festivals
    Edinburgh International Festival
    Fringe Festival
    Edinburgh Annuale
    Edinburgh International Film Festival
    Beltane Fire Society Website
    Edinburgh's Hogmanay
    Edinburgh Festivals
  4. World Heritage site
  5. translation of "Y Gododdin"
  6. Edinburgh's "seven hills":
    • Arthur's Seat (251 m) at 55°56′39.76″N, 3°9′41.08″W.
    • Castle Rock (108m) at 55°56′57.80″N, 3°12′1.62″W
    • Calton Hill (95m) at 55°57′20.23″N, 3°10′58.10″W
    • Corstorphine Hill - (166m) at 55°57′7.33″N, 3°16′21.58″W
    • Braid Hills (208m) at 55°54′44.84″N, 3°12′14.0″W
    • Blackford Hill (164m) at 55°55′25.83″N, 3°11′39.16″W
    • Craiglockhart Hill (Wester Hill; 176m Easter Hill; 157m) at 55°55′6.27″N, 3°14′9.59″W
  7. [1].
  8. Edinburgh City Council. Major Development Projects 2006. Retrieved on 2007-04-21.
  9. Royal Bank of Scotland Group
  10. Edinburgh's Universities
    The University of Edinburgh
    Heriot-Watt University
    Napier University
  11. [2]
  12. Trial in the Sheriff court, Edinburgh, February, 1838, of Charles John Dalrymple, Alfred Westmacott, John Aikenhead or Aitkenhead, Robert Scot Skirving, and Edward Kellet.
  13. Old and New Edinburgh Volume IV, James Grant
  14. Edinburg Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
  15. Calton Hill
  16. Thomas Aikenhead
  17. Mary King Close
  18. John KnoxCatholic Encyclopedia
  19. Leith
  20. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.
  21. Irvine Welsh
  22. Musselburgh race course
  23. The story of Greyfriars Bobby
  24. Greyfriars Kirkyard
  25. The time ball on Nelson's monument
  26. "Edinburgh" by William McGonagall
  27. William McGonagall: a satirist of genius?
  28. Arthur's Seat
  29. Burke and Hare
  30. Surgeon's Hall Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  31. Anatomy Resource Centre of the University of Edinburgh.
  32. Sheep Heid Inn
  33. Maggie Dickson19th century broadsheet
  34. St Giles' Cathedral
  35. Bedlam Theatre
  36. Anything goes to keep Edinburgh Fringe on top BBC News 5 August 2011
  37. JK Rowling homepage
  38. Ian Rankin homepage
  39. Alexander McCall-Smith homepage
  40. RL Stevenson on Hume
  41. Statue for Adam Smith
  42. James Lind bbc.co.uk
  43. Sir Henry Raeburn
  44. Online Books by RL Stevenson
  45. Backscheider PR (1987) [Defoe and the Clerks of Penicuik Modern Philology 84:372-81
  46. Kerr CE, Milne I, Kaptchuk TJ. William Cullen and a missing mind-body link in the early history of placebos
  47. Robert Adam's Vision of Edinburgh
  48. Barry, James Miranda Stuart The Canadian encyclopedia
  49. Heart of Midlothian F.C.
  50. Hibernian FC
  51. Edinburgh Rugby Club
  52. Scottish Rugby Union
  53. Murrayfield Stadium
  54. The Golf Tavern
  55. The Scottish cricket team
  56. "Scotland throws down the gauntlet for all-star match" Times online August 2005
  57. "It's Just Not Cricket" The Rampant Scotland Newsletter August 2005
  58. Edinburgh Capitalsice hockey
  59. Edinburgh Diamond Devils baseball
  60. Edinburgh Marathon