Edinburgh’s History

edinburghs-historyEdinburgh is one of the most spectacular cities in Europe and the Capital of Scotland. Of course it could be justifiably called the “Capital of Festivals’ with its main international (and fringe) festival and numerous others including the Edinburgh Tattoo, Book, Film and Jazz Festivals.
From every angle the city strikes theatrical poses. The neoclassical monuments on Calton Hill at the east end of Princes Street seem about to frame a Greek tragedy, with Edinburgh Castle dominating the skyline at the west end of the Royal Mile.

Historical Background

There has been a settlement on Castle Rock since 800 BC. Several fortresses have occupied the site resulting in the cluster of buildings we see today. The oldest building is St. Margaret’ Chapel, named after Queen Margaret who persuaded her husband, King Malcolm, to move the capital here from Dunfermline in the 12th century.
The city grew from the castle spreading along ‘The Royal Mile’ – the roadway that connects the castle to Holyroodhouse Palace in the east. In 1329 Edinburgh became a Royal Burgh, allowing markets and fairs to be held. Increased trading resulted in a larger population, but the town stayed within its walls until the mid 18th century and so developed the close-knit streets and buildings of the ‘Old Town’. Some can still be seen as well as the grid layout from Princes Street to Queen Street and Charlotte Square to St. Andrew.
The ‘New Town’ evolved from about 1770 to accommodate the larger and richer population. Great public buildings like the Royal Scottish Academy, The National Gallery of Scotland and Scott’s Monument were built, enhancing the city with their elegant facades and mouldings.

Towering above Holyroodhouse is Arthur’s Seat, yet another theatrical backdrop for the city and an entirely appropriate setting for the cultural overkill of the International Festival. Edinburgh is a city of history and culture, with a truly cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it a most exciting and interesting place to visit.

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle along the Esplanade down Castle Hill to the Lawnmarket, along High Street and Canongate to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It was once a quiet narrow street but comparitively spacious compared to some of the nearby alleys.
The Royal Mile, known as the main street in Medieval Edinburgh, runs through the old town. Many of the original buildings were demolished, however a few buildings still exist to give you a feel of Old Edinburgh.
The narrow l5th century house, owned by John Knox is a remnant of a 17th century house. As private dwellings were compact, James Court was developed as openspace. It can be accessed via the alleys’ either side of Gladstone’s Land. Most of the buildings were rebuilt in the 18th-19th century. The Royal Exchange, designed by John Adam in the 18th century is now the City Chambers occupied by the City Council. The Palace of Holyroodhouse was started in 1544, by King James IV. After a blazing fire, the palace was rebuilt between 1671-80. In the early 1800s the palace was left to decline but much maintenance work in this century has restored its past beauty.

Edinburgh Closes

The murky past of Edinburgh’s old town is evident is many of the dark, narrow and cobbled closes, which are prevalent today. These closes can be found on both sides of the Royal Mile where they run between the High St and the Grassmarket and from Cannongate to Cowgate as well as providing the quickest route, on foot, to the New Town.

The Grassmarket

In medieval times the Grassmarket was best known for its hangman’s noose. Thankfully, those days are gone and the Grassmarket, at the heart of the old Town, is now known for its’ pubs, restaurants and novelty shops. Some of Edinburgh’s most popular pubs, Biddy Mulligans, The last Drop and The Beehive can be found here. During the day the Grassmarket is the perfect place to relax and unwind. If it’s a quiet life you’re after it’s best to avoid the grassmarket after dark when it comes to life and hoards of revellers hit the pubs and clubs in search of a late night rendezvous.

New Town

By the mid 18th century the city of Edinburgh was drastically over crowded, being just a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide. To alleviate the problem Lord Provost George Drummond launched a competition to design an expansion plan for the city. The competition was won by James Craig and his plans were the basis for the development of the New Town.

Many upper class people moved to the New Town and the Old Town quickly deteriorated to what was described as a slum. Encompassing Streets such as Princes Street, George Street , Regent Terrace and Moray Place the New Town was originally intended as a residential area for the wealthier citizens. Nowadays it is dominated by banks, offices and shops and is also becoming renowned for its trendy bars and restaurants.


Until the 1920’s Leith was a completely independent town and even controlled much of Edinburgh’s sea-going trade. With the decline of the shipping industry, so the lifeblood of Leith dried up. However, over the last ten years Leith has changed out of all recognition. The old harbour has now been regenerated, and many new shops, hotels, galleries, restaurants and bars have opened along the waterfront and in the surrounding winding cobbled streets. Many of the old bond warehouses have been converted into trendy new appartments and office space introducing a cosmopolitan mix of people who live, work and socialise in this exciting environment.

Leith is now a vibrant, popular place to visit, where you can relax and soak up the atmosphere in the fabulous cafes, bars and restaurants.