The Scottish Parliament is a fascinating series of buildings and open spaces located at the foot of the Royal Mile, close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Salisbury Crags. It's been the home of the Scottish Legislature since 2004, and it has become one of the most popular, and controversial, attractions in Edinburgh.
A Bit of History
When the Act of Union was passed in 1707, the Scottish and English Parliaments were merged to form the Parliament of Great Britain, which was then housed in the Palace of Westminster in London. For the next 292 years, Scotland was governed directly from London.
However, in 1997, a referendum of the Scottish Electorate resulted in the establishment of a new Scottish Parliament to legislate on devolved local matters like health and education.
Scottish Parliament — Photo courtesy of Klaus with K
The new legislature set about the business of governing Scotland from their temporary home in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland located on the Mound, but the hunt was on for a site and a design that could meet the aspirations of the new parliament.
The New Buildings
Following an international competition, the Spanish architect Enric Miralles was given the go-ahead to design a new structure, which was to create a dialogue between the landscape and the people of Scotland.
Located on the Royal Mile, the Cannongate Buildings house the Finance and Procurement offices and the Scottish Parliament Information Centre. This fascinating structure links the past (in the form of the original retained stonework) and the future (in the form of the new structure built in concrete and steel).
The exterior wall incorporates a selection of stones from all over Scotland and quotations from Scottish writers.
The Main Hall is formed by three large vaults, with the motif of the Scottish flag (the Saltire) repeating throughout. The reception area houses a large information desk, a permanent exhibition on the founding of the parliament, a crèche, an education centre and a café.
The Debating Chamber sits above the main hall. Constructed from oak, glass and sycamore, it's an impressive space with a semi-circular chamber (to encourage open debate rather than adversarial conflict) and a gallery to allow members of the public to see Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) in action.
Adjacent to the Debating Chamber lies the Media Tower, a four-story building with distinctive panels of oak and granite.
Queensbury House is a 17th-century A-listed building, which was renovated and incorporated into the contemporary structures, providing a link between the past and the present. It houses the offices of the Presiding Officer, the Parliament's Chief Executive and numerous other staff.
The MSP building provides accommodation for public servants when they're attending parliament. It features iconic projecting bay windows (each with its own window seat), which are said to have been inspired by the famous portrait by Raeburn of Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch.
The Garden Lobby is at the centre of the parliamentary complex and connects the debating chamber, committee rooms and the Tower Buildings, with Queensberry House and the MSP building. It features spectacular leaf-shaped sky lights, which allow natural light to flood the area.
There are a number of different tours available, focusing on the working parliament, the art and design of the buildings and the history of Scotland’s legislature. Tours are free of charge, but you must book in advance.