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.
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
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
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
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.