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History

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EDINBURGH. History

Scotland's Capital City.

Edinburgh is one of the most attractive capital cities in the world.

Shaped by volcanic heat and the crushing power of a slow-moving glacier, its exact origins are lost in antiquity. Yet from its earliest days, it has retained and fostered the enduring qualities that have inspired great men and great achievements.

It is a city rich in history yet progressive in outlook, a capital of striking contrasts where the old and the new stand side by side in harmony. It is a place where art and culture have flourished, where the fields of research in science, medicine and education have developed for centuries.

Robert Louis Stevenson described Edinburgh as ''this profusion of eccentricities, this dream of masonry and living rock, not a drop scene in a theatre, but a city in the world of everyday reality''.

To G. K. Chesterton, it was ''a sudden sight'', where ''great roads rush downhill like rivers in spate and great buildings rush up like rockets''.

Oliver Wendell Holmes viewed it as a city of incomparable loveliness and Mendelssohn said he had found here the beginnings of his Scottish symphony.

The clock is often turned back and the question asked: how did Edinburgh begin? The pieces in the historical jigsaw fit together in the following pattern.

The glacier gouged out the land north and south of the Rock and left a sheltering, sloping ''tail'' of ground. On this sloping ridge a primitive fortress was built in A.D. 452 and occupied by the Picts, a tough and tenacious race. The ancient name of Edinburgh was Dunedin, meaning the fortress on the sloping ridge. When the Angles invaded the Lothians after the Roman withdrawal the resemblance of ''Edin'' to Edwin, a Northumbrian king, who rebuilt the Castle in the 7th century, led to the name Edwinesburg in his honour. Today the town's name recalls its Celtic origin as well as its Anglican history. (And English visitors today still outnumber those from other countries.)

The Castle became a Royal refuge in the 11th century. From 1057 to 1093 Malcolm Canmore, son of the Duncan who was murdered by Macbeth, reigned in Scotland as Malcolm III, last of the purely Gaelic kings. He married Margaret, great-niece of King Edward the Confessor, who, for her piety, became Saint Margaret. She built the beautiful little chapel that stands on the crest of the Castle Rock. This tiny sanctuary is Edinburgh's oldest building. By the 11th century Edinburgh began to assume a more ''modern'' aspect, with merchants from foreign countries bringing their cloths of many colours and precious ornaments and metals for sale in the ''luckenbooths'' or markets in the High Street, near the Castle.

Edinburgh was early given the status of a Royal Burgh. The foundation Charter granted by King David I to the Abbey of Holyrood is dated between 1144 and 1147. Among other gifts, which the king bestowed on his canons, was the right to build a burgh (later the Canongate) between the Abbey and his ''Burgh of Edinburgh'', with similar privileges to those held by the latter.

By the 14th century Edinburgh was becoming more important, and in 1329 King Robert the Bruce granted a new Charter to the city. This is the earliest surviving Royal Charter. It granted Edinburgh rights over the Port of Leith, situated where the Water of Leith entered the Firth of Forth. (Leith today is a flourishing seaport linked to the oil industry and exporting many of Scotland's-and Edinburgh's-goods overseas.)

About 1500, King James IV, patron of the arts and education, began building the Palace of Holyroodhouse beside the ancient Abbey of Holyrood founded by David I in 1128. King James IV gave a Charter to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and ordered all barons and labourers to see that their eldest sons remained at school and college long enough to understand the country's laws. The Pope presented the King with the Sword of State, a treasured item in the Scottish regalia, housed in Edinburgh Castle. During what has been described as the golden age of Scottish medieval history, King James IV also granted, in 1507, exclusive rights to Walter Chepman, an Edinburgh merchant, and Andrew Myllar, a bookseller, to set up Scotland's first printing press. Thus, one of Edinburgh's oldest industries was established. The King was also father of the Scottish Navy, his fleet of about 30 ships being led by the Great Michael, built at Newhaven, today a fishing harbour adjoining Leith.

Disaster came to Edinburgh when the King, many of his nobles, magistrates and townsmen were slain on Flodden Field in 1513. The grief-stricken populace made haste to build a new wall to defend the city against the expected invasion, which did not materialise at that time. Remains of this Flodden Wall, the battlemented tower, can still be seen at the Vennel, a lane leading into the Grassmarket from Lauriston Place, west of George Heriot's School. (From the Vennel there is a fine view of the Castle dominating the Grassmarket. There was a gate in the old Grassmarket, the West Port, where travellers entered the city from the west, among them Charles I in 1633 and Robert Burns in 1786.)

James V, who succeeded to the throne in infancy, later continued building the Palace of Holyroodhouse and established the Court of Session, which still meets today in Parliament House, behind St Giles' Cathedral. After his death in 1542 the most romantic character in Edinburgh's history, Mary Queen of Scots, appeared. She came from France, landing at Leith on August 19, 1561, to claim her royal heritage in a land tortured by religious strife and brutal struggles for personal power. John Knox, spearhead of the Reformation, was at the height of his power, and the clash between him and the Scottish Queen was both personal and universal. Mary's son became King James VI of Scotland and I of Great Britain, at the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

During James' reign the Town Council of Edinburgh was instrumental in establishing Scotland's first post-Reformation university on the Kirk o'Fields site (where Darnley, Mary's second husband, had been murdered). The University of Edinburgh celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1983.

In journeying south to succeed Queen Elizabeth on the English throne, King James took away much of the court life of Edinburgh. The city, however, became the setting for some of the great dramas of the period. When Charles I and Archbishop Laud attempted to introduce the English Prayer Book into Scottish churches an Edinburgh mob (including Jenny Geddes, cabbage-seller, who threw a stool at the Dean in the Cathedral) led a rebellion which eventually established Presbyterianism as the national form of religion. The Marquis of Montrose, a noted Presbyterian who signed the National Covenant in Greyfriars Kirk, was brought to the scaffold on a cart drawn up the Royal Mile.

Cromwell and his Ironsides occupied the city and the Port of Leith in 1650; but new splendour came to Edinburgh with the Restoration. King Charles II reconstructed the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and representatives of the noble families of Scotland continued to live in the Royal Mile near the Palace. Some of these beautiful old houses have survived to the present day, and in recent years restoration work carried out by the civic authorities and other bodies has resulted in the creation of a unique thoroughfare where 20th century citizens live or work in buildings which span six centuries. After the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 Edinburgh's history became local rather than national. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Courts of Justice still met here, but the State and Parliamentary occasions had vanished. Then, in the latter part of the 18th century the tremendous scheme of the New Town was conceived. The need for town planning in Edinburgh was clearly understood from earliest times and by the late 17th century the city had adopted the modern principle of putting people into high dwellings. The first large, controlled building outside the city was to the south, where George Square was built in 1766. Two hundred years later part of George Square was demolished to make room for large modern University buildings.

In 1767 James Craig's plan for the New Town of Edinburgh was adopted, and along the crest of high ground to the north of the Castle came George Street, with impressive squares at each end. For the ensuing sixty to seventy years there was further building around this area, all carefully controlled. The legacy left to the citizens of today is a pattern of gracious streets, crescents and beautiful gardens comprising the most extensive example of Georgian urban architecture in Britain. Charlotte Square, the outstanding example of New Town architecture, contains Bute House (No. 6), built at the end of the 18th century. This is now the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister.

In the 18th century when Edinburgh's population was about 50,000, the city was gloriously restored as a centre of the arts. Allan Ramsay, barber, wigmaker, bookseller, theatrical pioneer, poet and song collector, whose statue is beside the floral clock in West Princes Street Gardens, made a great contribution to the cultural resurgence. He started the first lending library in Scotland in his bookseller's shop opposite the Mercat Cross in the High Street, and opened a theatre in Playhouse Close in the Canongate. Robert Fergusson, a poet who strongly influenced Robert Burns, followed Ramsay. The greatness of Burns was recognised and established in Edinburgh. The Musical Society of Edinburgh, which originally met in one of the taverns, built St Cecilia's Hall in Niddry Street, just off the High Street, in 1762. When the Assembly Rooms and later the adjoining Music Hall were built in George Street, in the New Town, St Cecilia's Hall was forgotten. Two hundred years later, however, it was restored as a musical centre by the University of Edinburgh.

In the golden age of the 18th century, Edinburgh became a literary metropolis, where poets, writers and philosophers gathered. Smollett lived in the Canongate in 1776: Oliver Goldsmith spent two years studying medicine in the city. Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations; David Hume, the philosopher and historian; Henry Mackenzie, author of The Man of Feeling,  all lived in Edinburgh. With the improvement of the stage-coach service, travellers were encouraged to come to Edinburgh, two notable tourists of the day being Dr Johnson and his biographer, Boswell.

Towards the end of the 18th century, Burns, the Ayrshire poet, was the idol of Edinburgh society. Then came the most distinguished literary son of Edinburgh, Sir Walter Scott, born in a house on the corner of Guthrie Street and Chambers Street on 15th August 1771. (Later he lived at 39 Castle Street, in the New Town.) Sir Walter Scott in his day increased the prestige of Edinburgh, not only by his novels and poems but also by his work as an Advocate and Sheriff. He arranged the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, the first Royal visit for over a century; he was also instrumental in discovering the Honours of Scotland by having the Crown Room in the Castle unsealed. The rich regalia of the country has been on display ever since. In the sphere of art Sir Henry Raeburn was adding lustre to Edinburgh's reputation about this time.

The 19th century brought the Industrial Revolution to Edinburgh in 1836 and the railway lines were laid alongside the Castle Rock where centuries before the Nor'Loch had been a focal point of interest. In the city, new roads and bridges were built, notably the Dean Bridge, designed by Telford. This bridge many years later was to carry traffic bound for the Forth Road Bridge opened in 1964. The University of Edinburgh became progressively more famous in the 19th century, particularly in the Faculty of Medicine. In 1847 Sir James Y. Simpson made the great discovery of the use of chloroform in surgery and midwifery and a little later Lord Lister saved many lives with his discoveries in the field of antiseptics. In other university faculties, Blackie, Wilson (Christopher North) and Playfair had a world reputation as teachers. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was born in Edinburgh in 1847 and attended the University. In 1850 Edinburgh's population had grown to 160,000. Industry was expanding and the city boundaries extending. By the end of the 19th century Edinburgh had become a prosperous city, St Andrew Square, centre of banking and insurance, being one of the richest squares in the world.

In the 20th century the Palace of Holyroodhouse again became a Royal residence, in regular use. There have been many occasions of pageantry and interest in Edinburgh in recent years, but the outstanding cultural event of the century was the start of the Edinburgh Festival of Music and Drama in 1947.

In 1970 Edinburgh hosted the Commonwealth Games, which by universal acclaim were among the most successful ever staged, so much so that the Games returned to the City in 1986. Since then Meadowbank Sports Centre and the Royal Commonwealth Pool have been the scene of many international meetings and athletes from all over the world have contributed to the City's athletic stature.

Following a referendum in 1997 the people of Scotland voted to restore the Scottish Parliament following devolution proposals introduced by the UK Government. The first meeting of the new Parliament met on 12 May 1999 - once more Edinburgh was Scotland’s Capital City. Scotland's new Parliament building sits at the foot of Edinburgh's famous Royal Mile in front of the spectacular Holyrood Park and Salisbury Crags. The building was opened by HM The Queen in October, 2004.

Despite a great deal of new building in Edinburgh since the end of the Second World War the city still has a great profusion of lovely parks and gardens. It is a spacious city, built upon hills, its boundaries extending from sea level on the Firth of Forth to 457 metres on the Pentland Hills. There are some marvellous viewpoints and none more impressive than that of Arthur's Seat, either from the road or from the peak itself. The mountain in the heart of the city towers over Holyrood Park. On the lower slopes of Arthur's Seat sheep graze and the scenery in parts, where no buildings are visible, is reminiscent of a Highland landscape.

From the Pentland Hills, favourite haunt of Robert Louis Stevenson, woodland walks by Cramond and the River Almond, history lingers and natural beauty abounds. At the same time the industrial pulse of the city beats strongly, for Edinburgh, with a population of around half a million, has an extraordinary range of industry and the expertise in printing and brewing, the traditional crafts, has been matched by more recent advances in electronics and nucleonics. Edinburgh is a city with a proud past and a bright future.




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