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The City of Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. It has been a site of human settlement for millennia, and is now a bustling, cosmopolitan city, currently one of the largest financial centres in Europe.
Where is it?
For those not entirely sure where Scotland is, it is the country to the north of England, on the island of Great Britain off the north-western coast of Europe.
Edinburgh is situated close on the south shore of the Firth of Forth1, a river estuary on the east coast of Scotland. It is built on a number of hills (some of which are extinct volcanoes) on which sit the Castle, the Royal Observatory and other landmarks. The city centre itself is built on a drained lake, through which the main east coast railway line runs.
A Brief History of the City
Edinburgh has been a site of human habitation from early days. In AD79 the Roman Emperor sent an army into Caledonia, where Agricola encountered a Celtic tribe, the Votadinii. This tribe was based around an area called Dunedin, which is thought to be the current site of Edinburgh Castle.
After the Romans left, there were periodic times of warfare in Scotland; at this time there could not be said to be a unified nation. In the 11th Century a single ruler emerged, although he based his capital north of the Forth.
In 1093, Malcolm Canmore took the throne, and built a castle at Edinburgh, on the site of the current castle. His wife, Queen Margaret, who was later canonized, built a chapel there, which remains to this day in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle. It is the oldest building standing in Edinburgh.
Canmore's son, David I (known as the Lion), built the abbey at Holyrood (now the site of the Royal Palace) and a thriving community sprang up along the road leading from Castle to Abbey (the Royal Mile - still called this today) and also at Leith, Edinburgh's seaport on the Forth. This took several hundred years, during which Edinburgh was involved in the Wars of Independence. It was given its Royal Charter in 1329 by Robert the Bruce, and continued to grow. By the end of the 16th Century it was established as the capital of Scotland, but the Union of the Crowns in 1603 meant that the royal court moved en masse to London.
Despite not having its royal inhabitants, Scotland continued to have its own parliament, which often met in Edinburgh, until 1707, the year of the Act of Union of the Parliaments. In the years between, Edinburgh had continued to grow in population and sanitation and health were beginning to become a major problem. Disease was rife, and parts of the city were in such bad disrepair that they collapsed. The Old Town around the castle was beginning to become overcrowded, and a drastic solution was required. Enter the New Town.
The New Town of Edinburgh was started in 17672. It is distinct from the Old Town, the original areas about the castle. The loch, which had until then sat just to the north of the castle, was drained, and architects designed more planned, less crowded streets to the north of where the loch had been. The principle street was to be George Street, named after the king of the time, with Queen Street to the north and Princes Street to the south. George Street was to have two squares, one at each end. However, in more recent times Princes Street has become the main street in Edinburgh.
Today Edinburgh is a bustling city, full of life. Students are a common sight in Edinburgh, as it boasts four universities and three further education colleges. In the early months of the year, and also in autumn, rugby internationals are held at Murrayfield Stadium, which is also a popular venue for bands touring the UK and Europe.
Edinburgh is also an important financial centre. Many businesses have their head offices in the city, or at least a major branch. The Scottish Parliament has also recently been reconvened. However, by far the most important industry Edinburgh has is tourism.
Tourism in Edinburgh has many faces. There is historical tourism, with many people visiting the castle, the palace at Holyrood and many other old buildings in the city, especially churches. In the summer months the International Festival takes place, with assorted sub-festivals, like the Book Festival and the Festival Fringe. In the winter months there is also the spectacle that is the Hogmanay street party and fireworks3.
Newer attractions include the science centre at 'Our Dynamic Earth' and the nearby aquarium at 'Deep Sea World'. Given Edinburgh's situation, with hills in and around the city, many people enjoy climbing them, and the view from the top of Arthur's Seat, close to the palace at Holyrood, is particularly good. Another popular hill is Calton Hill, upon which lie the City Observatory (distinct from the Royal Observatory, which is on Blackford Hill) and the Parthenon, a Greek-type structure. The construction of the Parthenon led to Edinburgh, for a time, being known as the Athens of the North.