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Edinburgh's history, dates back to the time when Malcolm III Canmore (died 1093) after builing his castle, and a chapel for his wife, Queen Margaret within its walls - now the oldest building in the city.

The Abbey at Holyrood, built by her son David I, and the castle became focal points of Edinburgh and a thriving community grew along side the road between them, now known as The Royal Mile.

It was from the 1500s that the town became established as the capital of Scotland, as the inhabitants, choosing to stay in proximity to the protection of the castle, built tall narrow buildings along a stretch known as Castlehill.

By the time of the birth of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542, the pattern of narrow wynds and closes between high tenements was well established. When James VI took the throne England in 1603, Edinburgh lost its status as the principal site of the royal court, although it continued to have its own Parliament.

The Parliament then also ceased in 1707 following the Act of Union, but the town prospered despite this, in a period of energetic building during the "Enlightenment". The Nor Loch was drained and filled and thousands of new houses built in an elegant layout of Georgian squares and courts.

The infusion of classical order and architecture was owing to the work of Robert Adam, who discovered the "architectural language" observed on his European "Grand Tour". He was responsible for designing the magnificent Charlotte Square, in 1791- the culmination to the development of the New Town.

Other detailed drawings and plans of classical structures and ornamentation, by Gibbs and Campbell, informed the builders of the time, responding to the wishes of their clients.

By the 1750's, Edinburgh was a booming centre of trade. The City Chambers, built as a Royal Exchange for Merchants to conduct business in, was built above the lower levels of several closes such as the infamous Mary King's close and Craig's Close. Because of space restrictions, tall buildings were built storey upon storey and rooms and cellars were excavated from the ground below street level. The Royal Mile saw the first ever skyscrapers with some buildings exceeding 10 stories high.

These extensive sections of subterranean houses, vaults, shops and taverns still exist to this day, attracting visitors and tourists, with ghost tales associated with its unhappy past.

The expansion of the New Town continued in the Victorian era, but the Old Town tenements around the Royal Mile, now abandoned by the wealthy professional classes were left to fall into a state of increasing decay. Living conditions were cramped and insanitary, leading to a cholera epidemic in the 1830's. It was also a period of increased crime, with notable outrages such as the Burke and Hare Murders of the 1820's.

This dichotomy of rich and poor, prestige and squalor, crime and opportunity, would characterise the rise and prosperity of the capital of Scotland.

The Improvement Act of 1867 was long overdue following a period in which the oldest buildings simply started to crumble and fall under their own weight. The public outcry that followed the collapse of the Heave Awa' House (killing 35 people) prompted the passing of the Act of Improvement.

This legislation allowed the council to tear down anything that looked like it might fall down, and commission a series of major changes which would transform several parts of the Old Town.

William Chambers
(Lord Provost in 1865) widened narrow wynds into streets and built new tenements at locations such as Blackfriars Street and St Mary's Street. The Old West Bow was demolished and new streets were cut through the maze of tenements and closes to improve access to areas both inside and outside the Old Town district.

Victoria Street joined the Grassmarket to George IV Bridge and Cockburn Street joined the Royal Mile with the train station at Waverley.

Later in the 1880's Partrick Geddes, town planner, remodelled sections of the Royal Mile in the Canongate, and also near the top of The Mound where he featured courtyards and gardens, reminiscent of those built by the first occupants 500 years before.

Prior to the Second World War, rennovation and reconstruction of areas in the Old Town, such as the Canongate, proved haphazard, with little attention payed to historical accuracy or a sense of architectural homogeny.

Today life is being breathed back into the Old Town with an influx of new residents and business. Now listed as a conservation area, old buildings are being restored and cared for by the Old Town Renewal Trust.

The rising popularity of Edinburgh as a place to live and as a centre for local and international tourism and commerce, is due, in part, to the establishment of the Edinburgh Festival.

In the 1960's areas of the New Town were being pulled down and redeveloped at an alarming rate, though the trend was reversed by the New Town Conservation Committee.

In recent times buildings have been restored using traditional, hence more sympathetic methods, and it seems likely that this investment in business and heritage will ensure that Edinburgh remains one of Europe's most striking and historically interesting living monuments.


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