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Edinburgh History

History of Edinburgh Much of the attention of the the city of Edinburgh has received historically revolves around its strong, silent guardian - Edinburgh Castle [map] and the excellent strategic positioning of the area with its natural defences.

Over time many have sought refuge there using the location as a fort. But archaeological digs have found evidence that even as far back as Bronze Age and Iron Age man, the qualities of this extinct volcano position made it a great location to settle.

The city’s name is believed to have originated from its roots as a fort. When King Edwin leader of the Northumbrian Angles rebuilt the fort in the 7th century AD - its name became Edwin’s burh (burh was the old name for fort) from which we get Edinburgh.

In the 11th century the city began to grow with markets being established at the base of the fortress but it was not until the 12th century that the city’s potential as a capital was acted upon. In 1124 King David I relocated his court from Dunfermline to the growing town of Edinburgh. From then it began to establish itself as the permanent capital of Scotland.

As the town grew around what we know today as the Grassmarket area, it became more and more crowded with 12 storey tenements being constructed in an attempt to hold all the inhabitants. It was this that led to Edinburgh’s nickname of Auld Reekie due to the smells emanating from the unsanitary conditions.

But despite this, under King James IV the site thrived and during this golden age the Royal College of Surgeons was established in 1506 and in 1508 the first printing press came to Scotland.

This period of prosperity was not to last though, and in 1513 it came to an abrupt end when the English won at the Battle of Flodden throwing the town into over a century of decline.

During this time James VI of Scotland became James I of England and undermined Edinburgh by moving his court to London. The Act of the Union 1707 which aimed to unite England and Scotland despite fierce opposition from the people, caused Edinburgh’s prestige to fall even further as political control was given to parliament in London.

In the late 18th century the city’s fortunes began to change. An architectural competition led to the creation of the New Town and Edinburgh flourished in the arts and sciences.

Over the 18th and 19th centuries the city spread northwards and its population quadrupled in size to 400,000. This coincided with Edinburgh gaining increased respect, establishing itself as a cultural and intellectual centre.

Today the Scottish capital is retaining its cultural and intellectual spirit as home of Scotland’s largest library, host to the largest arts festival in the world, Fringe Festival and designated UNESCO World Heritage sites (both the Old and the New Town have this honour). The city is also beginning to claim back its political status with Labour’s devolution plans allowing Scotland to re-establish its own parliament in the capital.


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