One city, two towns
"This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again." - Alexander McCall Smith
The city’s name was originally Dunedin (Din Eidyn), which in Scots Gaelic translates as the ‘fort on the rock’. A fortification (probably wooden) was established on the Castle Rock around the start of the 7th Century AD. The city originates from this first settlement; with people living just outside the fort for safety.
Today this part of the city is called the Old Town - the buildings stretching from the Castle down the hill to the Palace of Holyrood (the Queen’s residence) - the ‘High Street’ - a route which is also known as the ‘Royal Mile’. It is medieval in character with narrow alleys and higglety-pigglety houses and shops. This is the tourist hub for obvious reasons, but nevertheless authentic and pleasing to the eye. It’s the location of plagues, executions, battles and much more. You can feel the past calling you at every turn; in the names of the ‘closes’ (little alleys), the cobbled streets, and the buildings.
But Edinburgh also has a New Town. (We call it the ‘New Town’ but it dates from 1767; so it’s all a matter of perspective.) This is the best example of Georgian style architecture in the world (also a World Heritage site) and was built on virgin land to the North of the Castle, laid out in a grand plan - with wide streets, squares and solid buildings. (The original planner, James Craig, was only 26 years old.) It was built partly because the rich folk got fed up of the old medieval town - which was crowded and smelly. So from 1767 to about 1850, they built a fabulous New Town for themselves - probably the oldest ‘new town’ in the world.
Scotland, or the Stuart dynasty, rose against the English (the Hanoverians) in 1745. Bonnie Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Pretender’ to the British Crown, raised a Jacobite army in the Highlands, with French support, and marched against the Hanoverians under King George I. Charlie, after making dramatic progress, was eventually defeated at the Battle of Culloden Moor, near Inverness, in 1746. (This was the last pitched battle on British soil.) Thus, in the 1760s the people of Edinburgh wished to show their loyalty to the Hanoverians and King George - which is why we have the New Town’s street names - Princes Street (the King had two sons), Queen Street, George Street, Saxe-Coburg Square, etc.
"Edinburgh, which considered itself for intellectual reasons the 'Athens of the North' set out after 1810 to continue in a more Athenian mode the extension of her New Town begun in the 1760s. The results rival St Petersburg as well as Copenhagen, Berlin and Munich. Indeed in Edinburgh, what was built between 1760 and 1860 provides still the most extensive example of a Romantic Classical city in the world." - H.R. Hitchcock
The two parts of Edinburgh are 100% different - and it is well worth taking each in separately, our ‘two towns in one city’.
In between the new and old towns lie the Princes Street Gardens, in the dip below the Castle. Originally this was a loch (lake) called the Nor’ Loch. It had become a refuse dump for the Old Town. (Edinburgh has a nickname - ‘Auld Reekie’ - which translates as ‘Old Smelly’.) As well as the Gardens, this area is home to the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Galleries. Also the pointed Scott Monument, to our national ‘writer’, Sir Walter Scott. The central railway station, Waverley, also lies in the dip between the two towns.
Edinburgh is a great walking city; so you are encouraged to take a couple of hours to walk the length and breadth of the central area; you will not be disappointed.