Edinburgh, Scotland

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Date: July, 2014
Location: Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland, United Kingdom


Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, situated in the Central Belt region on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. It is the second most populous city in Scotland and the seventh most populous in the United Kingdom.

Edinburgh has been recognized as the capital of Scotland since the 15th century. Political power moved to London after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Union of Parliaments in 1707. After nearly three centuries of unitary government, self-government returned in the shape of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Edinburgh has a rich past and many historic buildings still exist. The city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the unique character of the Old Town with its medieval street layout and the planned Georgian New Town.

In the middle of the city is Castle Rock, an extinct volcano upon which sits the Edinburgh Castle. The rock is estimated to have risen some 350 million years ago during the lower Carboniferous period. Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD). There has been a royal castle on the rock since the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns. As one of the most important strongholds in Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

The Old Town runs downhill from the castle and terminates at Holyrood Palace forming the Royal Mile down the crest of the ridge. Minor streets (called closes) lie on either side of the main spine forming a herringbone pattern. The street has several public buildings such as the church of St Giles, the City Chambers and the Law Courts. Due to space restrictions imposed by the narrowness of this landform, the Old Town became home to some of the earliest “high rise” residential buildings. Multistory dwellings known as lands were the norm from the 16th century with ten-to-eleven stories being typical and one even reaching fourteen or fifteen stories high. Numerous vaults below street level were also inhabited to accommodate the influx of incomers, particularly Irish immigrants, during the Industrial Revolution. Many of these lands have long been lost or buried underground to give way to new construction. Mary King’s Close,  was discovered buried under the Royal Exchange, and visitors can now take tours in the ruins to witness what life would have been like in Edinburgh between 16-19th centuries.

The New Town was an 18th-century solution to the problem of an increasingly crowded city. In 1766 a competition to design a “New Town” was won by James Craig, a 27-year-old architect. The plan was a rigid, ordered grid. The principal street is George St, running along the natural ridge to the north of the Old Town. On either side of it are two other main streets: Princes St and Queen St. Princes St has become the main shopping street in Edinburgh and has few of its original Georgian buildings remaining. The east and west ends of George Street are terminated by St Andrew Square and Charlotte Square respectively.

The city is also famous for the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe, the latter being the largest annual international arts festival in the world. In 2004 Edinburgh became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, an accolade awarded in recognition of its literary heritage and lively literary activities. Edinburgh’s economy, traditionally centered on banking and insurance, now encompasses a wide range of businesses and tourism, making it the second largest financial center in the UK after London.

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