Background and Basic Info – Edinburgh, Scotland

Background and Basic Info
Edinburgh, Scotland

Background and Basic Info
Edinburgh: the city of kilts, wool jumpers (sweaters) and scarves, Celtic symbols, pure butter shortbread, haggis, and, of course, ale. I bumped into some of the friendliest and most hospitable people here, and would highly recommend visiting this charming city. Edinburgh’s setting is striking; developed amidst a series of extinct volcanoes and rocky crags, which rise from the generally flat landscape of the Lothians, with the shoreline of the Firth of Forth just to the north. In other words, Edinburgh boasts genuine nature rather than the manicured stuff you get in most other cities. But, if you’re admiring the greenery, don’t get too excited too fast. Wait twenty minutes and you’ll probably witness one of the oldest jokes about Edinburgh, the ever-changing weather. So, before you head off on the adventure of a lifetime, be sure to pack your rain jacket, sunglasses, sunscreen, thermals, gloves, wool hat, and snow shoes – and maybe an ice axe and crampons in case you venture to hike Arthur’s Seat. I speak from experience – in Edinburgh there is no such thing as being over-prepared for the weather.

The center has two distinct sections, divided by Princes Street Gardens, which run east-west under the shadow of Castle Rock. To the north, New Town was immaculately laid out during the Age of Reason, after the announcement of a plan to improve conditions in the city. In contrast, the medieval Old Town consists of tortuous alleys and tightly packed closes. It earned the nickname “Auld Reekie” for the smog and smell of the sewage that was tipped out of windows and cramped tenements. Edinburgh literally swam in excrement for centuries. Castle Rock in Edinburgh, with its strategic views over the Firth of Forth, has been occupied since 1,000 BD in the Bronze Age. The Castle itself is home to the city’s oldest building, St. Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 11th century. Margaret’s son, King David I, founded Holyrood Abbey a mile to the east some years later. The town that grew along the route between these two buildings became the residences of many kings, and today is referred to as the “Royal Mile”. During the reign of James IV (1498-1513) Edinburgh gained the status of Scotland’s capital. He also built Holyrood Palace in 1498 (still the royal residence) and made the city an administrative center.

Due to overcrowding, Old Town soon became a dirty and difficult place to live. Furthermore, these conditions threw rich and poor together. If nothing else, the construction of a New Town to the north in the late 1700s served to separate the wealthy from the poverty stricken once again, although the area is still viewed today as a world-class example of Georgian urban architecture with its wide, airy streets. Edinburgh is known for its social extremes. It has major law courts, is second only to London as a financial center in the British Isles, and houses the new Scottish parliament. Bankers and lawyers form the city’s establishment. However, outlying houses, built after World War II, still have echoes of the Old Town poverty. Edinburgh is best known today for being a major tourist center.