Scotland. People have been living on this land for at least 6,000 years. The first inhabitants appear to have been groups of hunters and fishermen. Next, the Celtic tribes who had been forced out of Europe. In the year 80 AD the Roman legions marched through. And finally the English.
The first references to Scotland’s central city of Edinburgh were in the notes of Ptolemy, an ancient Roman writer who made his comments in the year 160 AD. The first site in the area to be colonized was probably a hill called Arthur’s Seat.
Precisely which Arthur actually took a seat here isn’t quite clear. Romantics like to point to the legendary King Arthur of the Round Table. But there is no evidence to support that view. There is, however, considerable evidence that the hill had at least four prehistoric forts and an ancient farming community.
Immediate seating for Camelot or not, it’s definitely a spot from which you can see a lot. And just below Arthur’s Seat — Old Town.
Edinburgh’s Old Town is one of the oldest communities in Great Britain and much of it has remained intact.
One of the things I like about the Old Town was that all economic levels of the society lived in the same house. The rich and famous lived in the middle, the poor and unknown at the top and the bottom. And they were in regular contact with each other. They met each other in the hallways, on the staircases, in the courtyards. And they knew a lot about each others’ lives. If someone in business was being dishonest or a magistrate handed down an unpopular opinion in the courts, they would be confronted about those issues when they got home. And often the confrontation took the form of a flying bucket of garbage. I like that system a lot. As I see our public officials leaving their elegant homes in their chauffeur-driven limousines, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a law that said that all government officials had to go to work in public transportation. Just to keep them in touch.
ANNE DOIG DIRECTOR OF TOURISM CITY OF EDINBURGH
We begin by taking you to the top of the most famous building in the city — Edinburgh Castle. You can see the city is very dramatic, because it’s a city born from fire and sculpted by ice. This whole area was under a shallow tropical sea that was subject to intense volcanic activity. Eventually when the ice came, one time there was two miles of sheet ice on top of this area and when it moved, it tipped up so dramatically that the ice scraped away all the soft debris and earth and rock and left seven hills that Edinburgh was created on. These hills are still volcanic hills.
Saint Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest building in Edinburgh. It dates back to the eleventh, twelfth century. The castle was taken in 1313 by the Scots again when they took it back from the English. They razed it to the ground. So everything went except the chapel. So it predates 1313. The Scottish military can still hold their weddings and christenings in that chapel. It’s a very tiny chapel. So if it’s a wedding, it’s much to the delight of the father of the bride because it only holds sixteen people so it’s not an expensive wedding, he loves it.
This is actually quite interesting because we’re standing here looking at the oldest building in the castle to the right and the very youngest opposite us. And you’d never really believe that that was the youngest building on the rock, it was actually built between 1923 and 1927. The weathered rock used to build this war memorial was originally part of a chapel called St. Mary’s On the Rock. It was a Catholic chapel which was demolished during the turbulence of the
Burt Wolf—Travels & Traditions
Reformation. But being Scottish, they didn’t waste anything, right? Recycling is nothing new to the Scots. They kept all the original stonework until they had another purpose to build on this site. And it was after the First World War they wanted to build a memorial to all the Scots who died in World War I. All the Scots who died and all the conflicts of the twentieth century are listed by name in books in this memorial. People come from all around the world to visit Edinburgh Castle, and they might have a grandfather or an uncle or something who died in the First or Second World War, and they can go to the books inside and their names will be there. So it can be really quite a touching experience.
The origins of the Old Town of Edinburgh and the city begin with the castle, which was a fortress. And what happened was we had several periods of invading armies and so what the people did is they built these scattered houses and huts in the shadow of the old fortress for protection, and as the city increased its importance and eventually became a capital, there was a huge population concentrated on this rocky ridge, and so there was no room for the city to expand out the way, it had to develop up the way because it was a walled city. So it became a vertical city. So there was a tumble of tall tenements developed all the way down from the castle down a spine of rock. So you can forget about Manhattan being the place where the skyscraper was developed; the skyscraper/high-rise development, first in the world, was right here in Edinburgh and that’s a superb example. Some of the buildings were fifteen, sixteen stories high.
The man that Jekyll and Hyde was based on lived right here. His name was William Brodie; his title was Deacon Brodie and he was a well-respected man in the city. But at night, he became a burglar. So this wave of crime was well-known but they couldn’t catch the thief. Why not? Because he was chairing the committee examining it. So eventually he was caught red-handed. There was another twist to the tale, because when he was executed, he was actually executed on the new, improved gallows. He designed the trap door and he was the first person executed. So the double life of William Brodie inspired Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In 1752, the Lord Mayor of Edinburgh secretly published a proposal for the improvement of the city. He complained that there was no place for the merchants of Edinburgh to do their business, no safe repository for the public records, no meeting place for the magistrates and the town council. The New Town was constructed to meet the needs which the Lord Mayor so rightly described. And everyone who could get up the money moved from the Old Town to the New Town. The exodus from the Old Town was so fast and so dramatic that it has come to be known as “the great flitting.”
The New Town of Edinburgh was built at the same time when there was an outburst of amazing intellectual energy. It was a period in our history known as the Golden Age, the enlightenment. And the New Town of Edinburgh was really the physical manifestation of what was happening in the minds of the people at that time. So in contrast to the Old Town, described by Stevenson as so many smoky beehives, the New Town was light; it was a city of nature, gardens, reason. The streets were laid out symmetrically. Squares were balanced at either end. That’s quite amazing that the architecture would follow the intellectual thought of the period.
You can read all about the people by reading the buildings. You can still see the wide doorways, lovely fanlight windows, the original lamps which would have been whale oil, then gas and now electricity.
And this is a typical house from that period built by one of the greatest men in our history; the greatest architect of the eighteenth century was Robert Adam. So this house belongs to the National Trust, but they’ve brought it back to the way it was back in 1790s. This is exactly the way the people would have eaten. You see the china’s Wedgwood. Everything came to the table at the same time. So you have the soup, fish, vegetables. Butback in the eighteenth century they ate everything all at once.
And typically of the eighteenth century, they had chairs on the outside. So there was a big space in the middle, because they might have spontaneous dancing, Scots dancing.