Photo Tour: Stirling Castle

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Outer Defenses

The First Line of Defense The outer defenses of Stirling Castle from the Esplanade. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

The Key to Scotland

From at least the 12th century a castle has existed atop Castle Rock in Stirling. Situated in the center of Scotland, Stirling Castle's strategic location ensured that those who held the castle were able to control movement through the middle of the kingdom. Records first show the existence of a royal castle at Stirling in 1107, during the reign of Alexander I. The castle's importance was recognized at an early date as it was one of five turned over to English King Henry II following his capture of King William the Lion in 1174. During the Scottish Wars of Independence, Stirling Castle again played a central role as the battles of Stirling Bridge (1297) and Bannockburn (1314) were both fought nearby. Following Scottish independence, Stirling Castle resumed its role as a royal palace and assumed much of its present-day appearance. With the beginning of the Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century, the castle reverted to a military base and served in this role until 1964.

Perched atop Castle Rock, Stirling Castle possesses a large esplanade outside of its main gate. Originally meant to be an open area to allow the castle's defenders a view of those who approached, it also provided a clear field of fire in battle. In 1809, with the military situation in Scotland peaceful, the esplanade was redesigned as a parade ground. Much of the castle's outer defenses were constructed between 1708 and 1714 by Captain Thomas Dury. These consist of thick, low-set walls designed to resist artillery bombardment. Dury's work incorporated the castle's earlier outer defenses which were built for Queen Mary of Guise in the 1550s. These include part of the "French Spur" which provided flanking fire across the front of the outer wall. Within the outer defenses is a small pocket, Guardroom Square, which is dominated by a higher set in inner walls. The outer defenses were also protected by a deep ditch and drawbridge.

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The Palace

A Royal Residence South facade of the Palace at Stirling Castle. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Built for King James V and his wife Mary of Guise, the Palace dominates much of Stirling Castle. Archaeological evidence suggests that construction began around 1538, and was most likely overseen by the King's Principal Master of Works, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart. It is believed that the design was created by one of James' French masons which included Mogin Martin, Nicholas Roy, and John Roytell. A quadrangular building with a central courtyard, the exterior of the Palace was heavily carved with statues representing classical Gods and Goddesses. While originally regally furnished and decorated, the interiors have been lost as the building has undergone several renovations and uses throughout the centuries. At this time, Historic Scotland is conducting archaeological surveys in the Palace with the goal of recreating the 16th century royal lodgings.

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Outer Close

The Lower Courtyard Eastern facades of the Palace (left) and Great Hall (right) of Stirling Castle from the Outer Close. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

The lower of Stirling Castle's two main courtyards, the Outer Close is dominated by the Palace (left) and the Great Hall (right). Also on the Outer Close are the Main Guard House and Fort Major's House. On the east side of the courtyard is the castle's Grand Battery which was constructed in 1689.

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Great Hall of Stirling Castle

The Largest in Scotland Interior of the Great Hall of Stirling Castle. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Intended for occasions of state and royal celebrations, the Great Hall was a large rectangular space that was completed around 1503. Due to the terrain of the Castle Rock, the Hall was built upon a vaulted undercroft which raised the main floor to the level of the Inner Close. The Great Hall was connected to the Palace via a bridge between the buildings. To heat the space, five massive fireplaces were built, with two on each side and one at south end. While the Great Hall hosted numerous special events, one of the most noteworthy was the baptism celebration for Prince Henry, the first son of James IV, in 1594, which saw a large ship constructed inside the building. In later years, the building was subdivided as the castle's uses changed. Following the army's departure in 1964, work began to restore the Great Hall to its 1500s appearance.

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The Castle Rock

Commanding the Landscape West facade of the Palace at Stirling Castle and part of the Castle Rock. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

The Castle Rock emerged approximately 350 million years ago as molten rock was forced up from deep within the Earth. Further honed by ice during the last Ice Age, the Castle Rock was surrounded by marshlands known as the Flanders, Blairdrummond, and Drip Mosses. During the Middle Ages, the combination of marshes and surrounding hills forced most land and water traffic moving north-south and east-west to pass directly below the Castle Rock, giving Stirling Castle its strategic importance. As a result of this, the castle was frequently likened to "huge brooch clasping the Highlands and Lowlands together."

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Inner Close & King's Old Building

The Upper Courtyard The King's Old Building on the Inner Close of Stirling Castle. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

The upper courtyard of Stirling Castle, the Inner Close was surrounded by the main royal buildings such as the Great Hall, Palace (left), and Chapel Royal. While the buildings in this part of the castle were originally set on a diagonal axis, this was changed around 1500, when James IV oversaw a large building program that created the present-day structures. On the west side of the close, is the King's Old Building (right). Archaeological studies have shown that this building was originally the "King's House" built for James IV in 1496. At that time, it would have contained quarters for the king as well as space for entertaining. With the completion of the adjacent Palace, the building was modified heavily and saw service in a variety functions including as a barracks and a residence for the castle's governor. It is currently in use as the regimental museum for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

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North Gate & Great Hall

Entrance to the Nether Bailey Great Hall of Stirling Castle from the Nether Bailey. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

The North Gate (lower left) to Stirling Castle provided access to the Nether Bailey on the lower end of the Castle Rock. Within the gate were the Great Kitchens for the castle. Much larger when first built, the kitchens were reduced in size and partially filled in to provide a solid base for construction of the Grand Battery in 1689. Note the difference in height between the Great Hall and Outer Close and the Nether Bailey.

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A Modern Addition Guard House and Powder Magazines in the Nether Bailey of Stirling Castle. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Tucked into the Nether Bailey of Stirling Castle are the powder magazines and a guard house. Constructed around 1810, and protected by thick walls, three of the magazines were built with parabolic vaults and baffled side vents to contain potential explosions. A fourth magazine, at the far end, was constructed in 1860 for the Volunteer Corps.

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Nether Bailey

The Lower Terrace Nether Bailey of Stirling Castle, looking south. Photo © 2007 Patricia A. Hickman

Entered through the North Gate, the Nether Bailey occupies the lower terrace of the Castle Rock. Irregularly shaped, the area encloses the sheer, northern end of the rock and, at one point, contained a miniature rifle range. Due to the terrain, there was never a main entrance to the castle through the Nether Bailey, however there were two small sally ports. These were closed in 1689, as part of the strengthening of the castle's defenses. The modern building (lower right) is Historic Scotland's tapestry studio. Here skilled weavers are recreating the tapestries that would have originally hung in the Palace.