Edinburgh Castle is one of the top tourist attractions in the whole of Scotland, with over 1 million visitors a year taking the walk up the Royal Mile to the ancient building. It also has a fascinating history, so lets take a (quick) look at the changing faces of Edinburgh Castle.
Ancient History, Myths and Legends
Edinburgh Castle sits upon Castle Rock, which was created by a volcanic explosion about 350 million years ago. Its not known exactly when the first people lived on the rock, archaeologists have found evidence of people settling on the rock from the late Bronze or early Iron age – which puts the Castle Rock up there as a contender for the longest continually occupied site in Scotland! The Romans seemed to have little interest in the rock and 16th-century writer, John Stow, credited Ebraucus, a legendary King of the Britons, with the building of “the Castell of Maidens called Edenbrough” in 989 BC. This is the first known castle to sit on the rock and the name “Maiden’s Castle” has a few stories attached to it. Arthurian legend suggests that Morgan Le Fey had a shrine built to her on the site!
There are many myths and legends attached throughout Edinburgh Castle’s history. For example, in 1558 several people reported seeing a dragon on top of St David’s Tower, which used to be the most prominent building in the castle but was destroyed during a siege between 1571 and 1573 and legend has it that any Edinburgh University student who passes through the castle gates will fail their final examinations! There are countless ghost stories as well, including that of the Bagpiper. Tunnels had been discovered under the Royal Mile and to find out where they went, a young Bagpiper was sent into the tunnels, playing music as he went so people could follow from above ground. Halfway down the mile the music stopped and the boy was never found. Some say his music can still be heard playing under the Royal Mile…
Built in the 12th century by David I, the castle that stands today has always been a military base and a royal residence for centuries, whoever held the castle held Scotland and so it’s no surprise that Edinburgh Castle has been attacked more times than any other place in Britain, with 23 recorded attempts to take the castle! From 1296 to 1341 the castle went back and forth between Scottish and English hands several times during the Wars of Independence and then in 1571 English forces attempted to capture Mary, Queen of Scots in a siege which became known as the “Lang Siege” as it lasted over 2 years. By 1573 all of Mary’s supporters surrendered to the English and David’s Tower (where the dragon was seen) was destroyed. The next siege came in 1610 when Oliver Cromwell executed Charles I and led forces against Scotland and in August 1610 the castle was once again in English hands. The Jacobite Risings of 1688-1746 saw many attempts by the Scots to recapture their castle but were never successful.
From the late 18th century to the early 19th century Edinburgh Castle was used to hold military prisoners from England’s many wars, but the castle became just a national monument after a mass prisoner break out in 1814 proved the castle couldn’t hold prisoners securely. The Castle was slowly restored throughout the 19th and 20th century, with military ceremonies being held there from 1927. Now the castle is much more than the Scottish National War Memorial it once was. The Edinburgh Castle blog has brilliant articles about the history of the castle as well as what’s happening at the castle now. Check it out here.
Over 1 million tourists make the walk up the Royal Mile (which isn’t a mile in the way we know it, it’s a traditional Scots mile!) to the historic castle. It has been painstakingly restored and you can wander round and visit The Great Hall, Crown Jewels and St Margaret’s Chapel, which is the oldest building in Edinburgh. Also at the castle is the Stone of Destiny, a powerful and ancient symbol of Scottish monarchy that has witnessed the coronation of Scottish monarchs for centuries. The stone will only leave Scotland when there is a coronation at Westminster Abbey. You can also visit the Regimental museum and get up close to the ancient canon, Mons Meg before witnessing the firing of the 1 O’Clock gun. It’s fired 6 days a week (not on Sunday) and is also silent on Christmas Day. If you’re heading to see the gun fire this Friday (25th) then you’ll be disappointed as it’s also silent on Good Friday.
The latest in the changing faces of Edinburgh Castle is as an impressive back drop to some incredible events. The first tattoo was held in 1950 and had just 8 items on the programme, now the event is seen by around 220,000 people annually with a further 100 million watching around the world on TV. The event is often a sell out and has never been cancelled in it’s entire history – so if you’re going make sure you dress for all weathers just to be sure! In 2011, £16 million spectator stands were put in place on the esplanade and since then the castle has been used as a backdrop to some of biggest names in music, from The Proclaimers and Tom Jones to Pink and Jessie J – this year is no exception.
Whilst Elton John is the big name visiting in June at Meadowbank Stadium, July is a huge month for the castle. Legendary pop-soul band Simply Red will be here on the 14th July and the following two nights see the Stereophonics light up the esplanade before we head for the “bonnie, bonnie banks O’ Loch Lomond” when Runrig perform at the castle. Find all the details for these concerts and tickets here. Whether you’re coming to one of the concerts or would just like to get away, take a look at our Special Offers or book direct to save money on your break.