Old Town, Edinburgh

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Old Town, Edinburgh
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Old Town from Princes Street.JPG
The Old Town seen from Princes Street
Location Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Part ofOld and New Towns of Edinburgh
Criteria Cultural: (ii)(iv)
Reference 728
Inscription1995 (19th Session)
Coordinates 55°56′51.26″N3°11′29.87″W / 55.9475722°N 3.1916306°W / 55.9475722; -3.1916306 Coordinates: 55°56′51.26″N3°11′29.87″W / 55.9475722°N 3.1916306°W / 55.9475722; -3.1916306
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Location of Old Town, Edinburgh in Edinburgh
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Old Town, Edinburgh (Scotland)
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Old Town, Edinburgh (the United Kingdom)
Map of the city centre, showing the Old Town (dark brown), New Town (mid brown), and the West End (orange), with the World Heritage Site indicated by the red line Edinburgh map.png
Map of the city centre, showing the Old Town (dark brown), New Town (mid brown), and the West End (orange), with the World Heritage Site indicated by the red line
Cockburn Street in Edinburgh Edinburgh Cockburn St dsc06789.jpg
Cockburn Street in Edinburgh

The Old Town (Scots : Auld Toun) is the name popularly given to the oldest part of Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh. The area has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings. Together with the 18th/19th-century New Town, it forms part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. [1]

Scots language Germanic language

Scots is the Germanic language variety spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster in Ireland. It is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language which was historically restricted to most of the Highlands, the Hebrides and Galloway after the 16th century. The Scots language developed during the Middle English period as a distinct entity.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and the North Channel to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Edinburgh Capital city in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.


Royal Mile

The "Royal Mile" is a name coined in the early 20th century for the main street of the Old Town which runs on a downwards slope from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey. Narrow closes (alleyways), often no more than a few feet wide, lead steeply downhill to both north and south of the main spine which runs west to east.

Royal Mile succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland

The Royal Mile is a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. The term was first used descriptively in W M Gilbert's Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (1901), "...with its Castle and Palace and the royal mile between", and was further popularised as the title of a guidebook, published in 1920.

Edinburgh Castle castle in Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland from its position on the Castle Rock. Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age, although the nature of the early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until 1633. From the 15th century the castle's residential role declined, and by the 17th century it was principally used as military barracks with a large garrison. Its importance as a part of Scotland's national heritage was recognised increasingly from the early 19th century onwards, and various restoration programmes have been carried out over the past century and a half. As one of the most important strongholds in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite rising of 1745. Research undertaken in 2014 identified 26 sieges in its 1100-year-old history, giving it a claim to having been "the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world".

Holyrood Palace official residence of the British monarch in Scotland

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.

Significant buildings in the Old Town include St. Giles' Cathedral, the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland, the Old College of the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament Building. The area contains underground vaults and hidden passages that are relics of previous phases of construction.

General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland multi-purpose venue in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Assembly Hall is located between the Lawnmarket and The Mound in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is the meeting place of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland combined museum in Edinburgh

The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, was formed in 2006 with the merger of the new Museum of Scotland, with collections relating to Scottish antiquities, culture and history, and the adjacent Royal Museum, with collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures. The two connected buildings stand beside each other on Chambers Street, by the intersection with the George IV Bridge, in central Edinburgh. The museum is part of National Museums Scotland. Admission is free.

Old College, University of Edinburgh

Old College is a building of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is located on South Bridge, and presently houses parts of the University's administration, the University of Edinburgh School of Law, and the Talbot Rice Gallery. Originally called the "New College", it was designed by Robert Adam to replace a number of older buildings.

No part of the street is officially called The Royal Mile in terms of legal addresses. The actual street names (running west to east) are Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand. [2]

Street layout

The street layout, typical of the old quarters of many northern European cities, is made especially picturesque in Edinburgh, where the castle perches on top of a rocky crag, the remnants of an extinct volcano, and the main street runs down the crest of a ridge from it. This "crag and tail" landform was created during the last ice age when receding glaciers scoured across the land pushing soft soil aside but being split by harder crags of volcanic rock. The hilltop crag was the earliest part of the city to develop, becoming fortified and eventually developing into the current Edinburgh Castle. The rest of the city grew slowly down the tail of land from the Castle Rock. This was an easily defended spot with marshland on the south and a man-made loch, the Nor Loch, on the north. Access to the town was restricted by means of various gates (called ports) in the city walls, of which only fragmentary sections remain.

Castle Rock (Edinburgh) volcanic rock in the middle of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Castle Rock is a volcanic plug in the middle of Edinburgh upon which Edinburgh Castle sits. The rock is estimated to have formed some 350 million years ago during the early Carboniferous period. It is the remains of a volcanic pipe which cut through the surrounding sedimentary rock, before cooling to form very hard dolerite, a coarser-grained equivalent of basalt. Subsequent glacial erosion was resisted more by the dolerite, which protected the softer rock to the east, leaving a crag and tail formation.

Crag and tail rock formation

A crag is a rocky hill or mountain, generally isolated from other high ground. Crags are formed when a glacier or ice sheet passes over an area that contains a particularly resistant rock formation. The force of the glacier erodes the surrounding softer material, leaving the rocky block protruding from the surrounding terrain. Frequently the crag serves as a partial shelter to softer material in the wake of the glacier, which remains as a gradual fan or ridge forming a tapered ramp up the leeward side of the crag.

Glacier Persistent body of ice that is moving under its own weight

A glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight; it forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. Glaciers slowly deform and flow due to stresses induced by their weight, creating crevasses, seracs, and other distinguishing features. They also abrade rock and debris from their substrate to create landforms such as cirques and moraines. Glaciers form only on land and are distinct from the much thinner sea ice and lake ice that form on the surface of bodies of water.

The original strong linear spine of the Royal Mile only had narrow closes and wynds leading off its sides. These began to be supplemented from the late 18th century with wide new north–south routes, beginning with the North Bridge/South Bridge route, and then George IV Bridge. These rectilinear forms were complemented from the mid-19th century with more serpentine forms, starting with Cockburn Street, laid out by Peddie and Kinnear in 1856, which specifically improved access between the Royal Mile and the newly rebuilt Waverley Station.

North Bridge, Edinburgh road bridge and street in Edinburgh linking the High Street with Princes Street

North Bridge is a road bridge and street in Edinburgh linking the High Street with Princes Street, and the Old Town with the New Town. The current bridge was built between 1894 and 1897. A previous North Bridge, built between 1763 and 1772, stood until 1896.

South Bridge, Edinburgh bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland

South Bridge is a road bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, starting at the High Street and finishing at Chambers Street/Infirmary Street. The bridge is constructed of nineteen arches, but is almost entirely enclosed by buildings on both sides, exposing only the largest arch where the street crosses the Cowgate. Below deck level are many buildings and vaults, the latter now something of a tourist attraction. Most of the buildings on the deck level have separate entrances at the level of the street passing below or parallel to the bridge.

George IV Bridge road bridge in Edinburgh, United Kingdom

George IV Bridge is an elevated street in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is home to a number of the city's important public buildings. Measuring 300 metres (330 yd) in length, the bridge was constructed between 1829 and 1832 as part of the Improvement Act of 1827. Named after King George IV, it was designed by architect Thomas Hamilton to connect the South Side district of Edinburgh to the New Town. Two of Edinburgh Old Town's traditional streets, Old Bank Close and Liberton's Wynd, had to be demolished for the construction of the bridge.

The Edinburgh City Improvement Act of 1866 further added to the north south routes. This was devised by the architects David Cousin and John Lessels. [3] It had quite radical effects:


Image of the Old Town from Calton Hill taken from page 179 of 'Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes' (1896) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Etchings by A. Brunet-Debaines from drawings by S. Bough and W. E. Lockhart. Image taken from page 179 of '(Edinburgh. Picturesque Notes ... With etchings by A. Brunet-Debaines from drawings by S. Bough ... and W. E. Lockhart, etc.)' (11239258446).jpg
Image of the Old Town from Calton Hill taken from page 179 of 'Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes' (1896) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Etchings by A. Brunet-Debaines from drawings by S. Bough and W. E. Lockhart.

In addition to the Royal Mile, the Old Town may be divided into various areas, namely from west to east:

Residential buildings

Buildings in the High Street Buildings in the High Street, Edinburgh.JPG
Buildings in the High Street

Due to the space restrictions imposed by the narrowness of the "tail", and the advantages of living within the defensive wall, the Old Town became home to some of the world's earliest "high rise" residential buildings. Multi-storey dwellings became the norm from the 16th century onwards. Many of these buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824; the rebuilding of these on the original foundations led to changes in the ground level and the creation of numerous passages and vaults under the Old Town. The construction of new streets including North Bridge and South Bridge in the 18th century also created underground spaces, such as the Edinburgh Vaults below the latter.

Traditionally buildings were less dense in the eastern, Canongate, section. This area underwent major slum clearance and reconstruction in the 1950s, thereafter becoming an area largely of Council housing. From 1990 to 2010, major new housing schemes appeared throughout the Canongate. These were built to a much higher scale than the older buildings and have greatly increased the population of the area.

Major events

A replica gas lamp in the Old Town Old Town lamp.JPG
A replica gas lamp in the Old Town

In 1824 a major fire, the Great Fire of Edinburgh, destroyed most of the buildings on the south side of the High Street section between St. Giles Cathedral and the Tron Kirk.

During the Edinburgh International Festival the High Street and Hunter Square become gathering points where performers in the Fringe advertise their shows, often through street performances.

On 7 December 2002, the Cowgate fire destroyed a small but dense group of old buildings on the Cowgate and South Bridge. It destroyed the famous comedy club, The Gilded Balloon, and much of the Informatics Department of the University of Edinburgh, including the comprehensive artificial intelligence library. [5] The site was redeveloped 2013-2014 with a single new building, largely in hotel use.

Old Town Renewal Trust

In the 1990s the Old Town Renewal Trust in conjunction with the City of Edinburgh developed an action plan for renewal [6] [7] [8] [9]

Proposed Development

The Jeffrey Street arches which were redeveloped in 2015 Edinburgh 1120471 nevit.jpg
The Jeffrey Street arches which were redeveloped in 2015

An area directly to the north of the Canongate has been earmarked for a large redevelopment project named Caltongate. The scheme involves building of a mix of residential, hotel, retail and office buildings on the site of the former SMT bus depot in New Street, developing the arches under Jeffrey Street, redeveloping other surrounding sites and creating a pedestrian link from the Royal Mile to Calton Hill. [10] The proposals have been criticised by commentators including the author Alexander McCall Smith and Sheila Gilmore MP who regard the modern design as incompatible with the existing older architectural styles of the Old Town and inappropriate for a UNESCO World Heritage site. [11] The Caltongate development has also been opposed by the Cockburn Association [12] and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland. The site developers Artisan Real Estate Investors have stated that the completed development will be a "vibrant, exciting" place. The plans were approved by the City of Edinburgh Council in January 2014 and construction was due to begin later in 2014. [13]

See also

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  1. "Edinburgh-World Heritage Site". VisitScotland. Archived from the original on 22 February 2013. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  2. Marshall, Gary, (Writer of All about Edinburgh) (2015), All about Edinburgh. The Royal Mile, Edinburgh : Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate, Abbey Strand, Horse Wynd, Edinburgh G.L.G. Publishing, ISBN   978-0-9934903-2-3 CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. Edinburgh: Mapping the City by Christopher Fleet and Danial MacCannell
  4. "Edinburgh revamp.(Scotland)(Cowgate site)(Brief Article)", Building Design, UBM Information Ltd (1639): 7(1), 27 August 2004, ISSN   0007-3423
  5. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/12/12/fire_guts_edinburghs_ai_library/
  6. Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust; Edinburgh Old Town Trust. Annual report (1992), Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust, Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust, retrieved 10 October 2016
  7. Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust; Edinburgh (Scotland). Planning Department (1992), Action plan for the Old Town, Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust : City of Edinburgh District Council Planning Department, retrieved 10 October 2016
  8. Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust; Edinburgh (Scotland). Planning Department (1993), Action plan for the Old Town : first review, Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust : City of Edinburgh District Council Planning Department, retrieved 10 October 2016
  9. Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust; Edinburgh (Scotland). Planning Department (1994), Action plan for the Old Town : second review : April 1994, Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust : City of Edinburgh District Council Planning Department, retrieved 10 October 2016
  10. "Caltongate masterplan". Frameworks, masterplans and design briefs. City of Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 19 February 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  11. "Caltongate development approved by Edinburgh Council". Scotland on Sunday. 29 January 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  12. "The Caltongate Development". Cockburn Association. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  13. David McCann (30 January 2014). "Caltongate work to start in summer". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 31 January 2014.