Photo Tour: Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Castle

Commanding the City Edinburgh Castle from Calton Hill. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

The Jewel of Scotland

Perched high atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city and the surrounding area. First inhabited in the 9th century BC, the site served as a defensive stronghold for those living nearby. Over the centuries, Edinburgh Castle's role grew and evolved with it serving as a military base, palace, prison, ordnance factory, and royal mint. Despite this multi-tasking, the castle always remained first and foremost a fortress, and was attacked at least thirteen times during its long history.

Towering over the city, Edinburgh Castle was first inhabited in the 9th century BC, and later became an important fort for the Votadini people (Gododdin) who called it Din Eidyn. Captured by the Angles in AD 638, the name was modified to Edinburgh. The town and fortress remained in their hands until they were driven out by the Scots under King Malcolm II in 1018. Under the supervision of King David I (1124-1153) the castle began to grow into a royal fortress. During the Wars of Scottish Independence (1296-1328, 1332-1357), the castle traded hands four times, with the English capturing it in 1296 and 1335, and the Scots retaking it 1314 and 1341. In 1356, the castle began to assume some of its present appearance following an expansion of its defenses by David II. With the ascendancy of the Stewart dynasty in Scotland, the castle's role began to grow. The castle was greatly expanded during the reign of James III (1460-1488) as he undertook a massive building program to turn it into his royal residence. This was continued by his son, James IV, who completed the Great Hall in 1511.

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Edinburgh Castle

The Castle Rock & Nor' Loch Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens, former sight of the Nor' Loch. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Towering over the city, Edinburgh Castle is situated atop Castle Rock. Measuring 400 feet above sea level, the Rock is actually a basalt plug from an extinct volcano. An example of a crag, the Rock presents sheer cliffs on three sides and made for the ideal fortress location. Throughout Scotland, castles and other fortifications were frequently placed on crags to enhance their defensive capabilities. Stirling Castle is typical of this type of strategic placement. To the north, below the Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle was further protected by the Nor' Loch. Initially a marsh, it was turned into a lake in the 15th century. As the Edinburgh grew in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Nor' Loch quickly became polluted as the city's sewage and waste all flowed into its waters. In 1759, with Scotland peaceful, the Nor' Loch was drained and subsequently became part of the Princes Street Gardens in the 1820s.

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The Esplanade & Half-Moon Battery

Approaching the Castle Edinburgh Castle from the Esplanade. The Half Moon Battery is above the gate. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

With the rise of Holyroodhouse as a royal palace at the far end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the Castle returned to a primarily military function and place of safety for the Scottish royal family. It was in this role that Mary, Queen of Scots, sought the sanctuary of the castle in order to give birth to her son, the future James IV of Scotland (James I of England) in 1566. Following her forced abdication, the commander at the castle, Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, remained loyal to her, precipitating a siege by by James VI's regent, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton. Known as the Lang (Long) Siege, it lasted from 1571 to 1573. The siege was finally concluded with the assistance of English cannon provided by Elizabeth I. After bombarding the castle for ten days, Morton's guns destroyed both David's and Constable's Towers at the castle's gates. The collapse of David's Tower covered the castle's well, depriving the defenders of drinking water. Kirkcaldy was forced to surrender within days. Following the siege, the outer defenses of the castle were rebuilt, with the Half-Moon Battery replacing David's Tower. The new battery was completed in 1588. In front of the castle, is the Esplanade, built in 1753, which served as a drill field for the castle's defenders. Each August, the Esplanade is home to the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

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Robert the Bruce

Father of Scottish Independence Statue of King Robert the Bruce at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Sculpted by T.J. Clapperton this bronze statue of King Robert the Bruce was added the left side of Edinburgh Castle's gate in 1929. A leader in Scotland's First War of Independence (1296-1328), Robert was crowned king of Scots March 25, 1306. In the years that followed, he led a successful guerrilla war that eventually reclaimed almost all of Scotland from the English. This conflict culminated with his stunning victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Fourteen years later, he brought peace to the land following the English recognition of Scottish independence through the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton.

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Sir William Wallace

Defender of Scotland Statue of Sir William Wallace at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

This statue of Sir William Wallace, by sculptor Alexander Carrick, was added to the right side of Edinburgh Castle's gate in 1929. Depicting one of the great leaders of the First War of Scottish Independence, it was initially criticized for being out of proportion. Born to a family of minor nobles, Wallace rose to become a skilled military commander fighting the English. On September 11, 1297, he commanded Scottish forces, along with Andrew de Moray, at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Winning a stunning victory, Wallace was made Guardian of Scotland (de facto head of state). His rule lasted one year until he was defeated by the English at the Battle of Falkirk on July 22, 1298. Following the loss, he traveled to France to seek aid from the French court. Returning in 1303, he was captured by the English two years later and executed in London.

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Foog's Gate

Door to the Upper Ward Foog's Gate, between the Middle and Upper Wards of Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Separating the Middle and Upper Wards of Edinburgh Castle is Foog's Gate. One of two ways to reach the Upper Ward and the Half-Moon Battery, Foog's Gate is flanked by one of the castle's reservoir buildings on the left. As maintaining a good water supply was critical during sieges, the castle possessed two large reservoirs to supplement its wells.

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St. Margaret's Chapel

The Oldest Building in the Castle St. Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

The oldest building within the Edinburgh Castle's walls, St. Margaret's Chapel was constructed by David I in the early 1100s in honor of his mother. Canonized in 1251, by Pope Innocent IV, Margaret was renown for her devotion to the Church and her care of the poor. The building was initially restored in 1853, and then again between 1929 and 1934.

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Scottish National War Memorial

Honoring Scotland's Dead Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Originally the site of St. Mary's Church, the building was demolished in 1755, after having been converted for use as a munitions storehouse. In its place was built the North Barracks which were expanded and renovated to their current appearance in 1863. Following World War I, the building was vacated by the army and was selected as the home for the Scottish National War Memorial. After four years of construction, the building was dedicated by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) on July 14, 1927. Within its walls is a tribute to all Scotsman who have died in defending the nation from World War I to the present day.

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Palace & Crown Square

The Honours of Scotland Crown Square, Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Facing what is now Crown Square in the uppermost part of the castle is the Royal Palace. Built in the 15th century, the palace contains the the Royal Apartments as well as the small room where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James VI. The building now is the home of the Honours of Scotland, also known as the crown jewels. The second oldest set of crown jewels in Europe, the Honours of Scotland consist of the crown, sceptre, and sword of state. Last used in the coronation of Charles II in 1651, the Honours were locked away following the 1707 Act of Union which combined the parliaments of England and Scotland. Recovered in 1819, after a search led by Sir Walter Scott, the Honours have been on display ever since. In addition to the Honours, the palace houses the Stone of Destiny (Stone of Scone). It was on this stone that the kings of Scotland were crowned from Kenneth MacAlpin (the first King of Scots) through John Balliol (1292). In 1296, the Stone was seized by English King Edward I as a war prize and to undermine the legitimacy of future Scottish kings. For the next 700 years it was kept at Westminster Abbey as part of the Coronation Chair. In 1996, it was finally returned to Scotland.

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Ordnance Stores & Hospital

The Castle's Changing Roles Cartsheds (foreground) and Ordnance Stores & Hospital, Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Off the Middle Ward of Edinburgh Castle are the Ordnance Stores and Hospital (center, rear). Designed by William Skinner, these buildings were erected 1753. In the middle of a small courtyard stood the primary powder magazine for the castle's defenses. This was demolished in 1897, when the Ordnance Stores buildings were redesigned and converted into a military hospital. The complex is now home to the National War Museum of Scotland.

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One O'Clock Gun

Keeping the City's Time Cartsheds (left) and One O'Clock Gun (center), Middle Ward, Edinburgh Castle. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

In 1853, a time ball was installed atop the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. This device, on which a ball dropped at a given time, allowed ships in port to accurately set their chronometers prior to sailing. While the time ball could be seen from Leith Harbor on clear days, it was obscured from view if fog or foul weather was present. To counter this issue, a gun at the castle was fired each day at 1:00 PM to coincide with the dropping of the ball. The type of gun used has changed over time from an 18-pdr cannon in 1853, to a L118 Light Gun today. Placed on the Mill's Mount Battery, the One O'clock Gun is still fired daily with the exception of Sundays and holidays.

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Edinburgh Castle as a Museum

Preserving Scotland's Past Ordnance Stores & Hospital, Edinburgh Castle as seen from Princes Street Gardens. Photograph © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

One of the most visited landmarks in Britain, Edinburgh Castle has been drawing visitors for over a century. Efforts to beautify the castle began in the 19th century with the initial restoration of buildings such as St. Margaret's Chapel. Also, many of the cannon currently mounted in the castle's batteries were placed at this time in order enhance its appearance. Currently overseen by Historic Scotland, the castle is open to the public year round. At this time, the castle's historic structures, such as the chapel, palace, and Great Hall, all have been restored to their original appearance. In addition, the castle is home to the National War Museum of Scotland, the Scots Dragoon Guards Museum, as well as an extensive exhibition on prisoners of war and the history of the crown jewels. Information on visiting Edinburgh Castle may be found here.