The skyline of Scotland’s capital city is dominated by the imposing and majestic Edinburgh Castle. It perches on top of the plug of an extinct volcano, affording breath-taking views of the surrounding area. It’s a location of such strategic value that it has been fortified since at least the second century AD (the Iron Age). The site is now maintained by Historic Scotland, and it's definitely the most visited fee-charging attraction in all of Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle has borne witness to many of the central events of the turbulent history of Scotland. David I of Scotland established Edinburgh Castle as his principal royal residence in the twelfth century. The chapel he built for his mother, St Margaret, still stands and is thought to be the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle — Photo courtesy of Public domain
The castle briefly fell under English control during Wars of Independence in the fourteenth century, but was recaptured in a daring night raid led by Thomas Randolph (the nephew of Robert the Bruce).
Over a century later, James IV built the magnificent Great Hall, which is still the site of lavish celebrations (particularly at New Year). Then half a century later, Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland (who became James I of Britain) in the tiny birthing chamber of the Royal Palace. The castle remained the principal residence of the Kings of Scotland until he merged the kingdoms of Scotland and England in 1603.
After James VI of Scotland left to become James I of Britain, Edinburgh Castle was increasingly used as a barracks. The castle was an important stronghold during the Jacobite Rebellions of the sixteen century, during which time it was besieged and bombarded by artillery. Bonnie Prince Charlie captured Edinburgh, but was unable to take the castle.
During the eighteenth century the underground vaults of the castle were employed as a prison, housing prisoners of war, pirates and privateers from all over the world.
To this day, there is a strong military presence in the castle. The castle is the home of the National War Museum, the Scottish National War Memorial and the Regimental Museums of the Royal Scots Guards and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
Edinburgh Castle is also the location of the hugely popular Edinburgh Military Tattoo, held every August during the Edinburgh International Festival. Other highlights include Mons Meg (a massive medieval cannon, which is among Europe’s oldest surviving examples) and the one o’ clock gun, fired almost every day since 1861 (except Sundays and Christmas Day).
Finally, there is the Dog Cemetery, where mascots and officers’ pets have been laid to rest since the 1840s.
You’ll also find the Royal Regalia of Scotland, including a spectacular crown, sword and sceptre. These are amongst the finest in Europe. The famous Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny) on which the Monarchs of Scotland were crowned is also here. The stone was seized by Edward I in 1296 and held in Westminster Abbey to be used in the coronation of English Monarchs (and later British Monarchs) as a symbol of their right to rule Scotland.
On Christmas Day in 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen from Westminster Abbey and transported back to Scotland. Although it was eventually recovered, some believe that the stone that returned was a copy and the real Stone of Destiny remains hidden somewhere in Scotland. In any case, the Stone held in Westminster was returned to Scotland in 1996 on the understanding that it would be returned for future coronations.