Aberdeen: Flower of the North

17 Mar 2015
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Home to a population of 229,000 Aberdeen is a thriving, cosmopolitan port in the North-east of Scotland and the country's third largest city after Glasgow and Edinburgh. Built at the mouth of two rivers, the Dee and the Don, the so-called Granite City owes its distinctive appearance to the famous, locally quarried stone.

Home to a population of 229,000 Aberdeen is a thriving, cosmopolitan port in the North-east of Scotland and the country's third largest city after Glasgow and Edinburgh. Built at the mouth of two rivers, the Dee and the Don, the so-called Granite City owes its distinctive appearance to the famous, locally quarried stone.

Traditional industries such as fishing and farming still flourish in and around the city but Aberdeen's buoyant modern economy reflected in unemployment rates consistently under 2% is fuelled by the oil industry, earning the city a new title: 'Oil Capital of Europe'. The city has re-branded as 'Aberdeen city and shire' to reflect its strong regional offering which also includes distilling.

With bustling shopping malls, a wide variety of entertainment and leisure amenities, and a vibrant arts scene, Aberdeen is a major retail, leisure and cultural centre.

A Royal Burgh

So wrote the poet William Dunbar in the fifteenth century, predating the sentiments of Iain Crichton Smith by almost five hundred years. This city of granite, established during the reign of Malcolm III (1058-93) has, it seems, always sparkled in the crisp northern light, resonating with the aesthete and the intellectual.

Aberdeen was made a Royal burgh in 1179 and in 1319 it was given the Freedom of the Lands of Aberdeen by the charter of one of Scotland's greatest heroes, Robert the Bruce, who spent much time in the burgh and bestowed many gifts upon it, including a total of six charters.

1495 was a significant year in the city's history as Kings College was established by Bishop William Elphinstone under a Papal Bull. About a hundred years later the Protestant Marischal College was created. The two colleges were united in 1860 with the formation of the University of Aberdeen.

The University retains a worldwide reputation for intellectual rigour and has nurtured the flowering of great minds in the arts and the sciences, helping to develop, no doubt, the famous Aberdonian shrewdness. Today it leads the research field in many areas of medical science centred round the impressive Institute of Medical Studies.

The call of the sea

"The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen mean
Home Sweet Home to me,
The Northern Lights of Aberdeen are what I long to see;
Ive been a wanderer all of my life and many a sight Ive seen,
God speed the day when I'm on my way
To my home in Aberdeen."

Aberdeen has always had a strong relationship with the sea. After improvements to the harbour in the late 18th century Aberdeen developed as a fishing port and salted herring (or silver darlings as they are known locally) became an important export and local food source.

The city is the largest manufacturing centre in the north: paper, chemicals, machinery and textiles are an important aspect of the Northeast economy, harmonising with the fishing and agricultural heritage of the area. But it was the coming of offshore oil that bestowed the title of "Oil Capital of Europe" upon the city and led to the latest boom in the city's fortunes starting in the 1970s.

Although a slump in oil prices in the mid to late eighties saw cut backs in the oil industry and a relative slow-down of the local economy, the area remained prosperous. During the national recession of the 1990s, stability in oil prices ensured that Aberdeen was able to weather the economic storm far better than most parts of Britain, staying ahead of the national average in terms of the housing market, retail trade and low unemployment.

As befits its status as Oil Capital, Aberdeen has, since 1973, held Offshore Europe one of the world's premier offshore oil and gas events. Taking place every two years, this major exhibition and conference is renowned for providing access to some of the most advanced thinking in exploration and production techniques.

A great place to live and visit

Aberdeen has much to offer in the way of entertainment and leisure. The city centre has several busy shopping malls designer boutiques, major chain-stores, charity shops and antique and speciality shops as well as a wide choice of nightclubs, wine bars, traditional pubs and restaurants. The city has a thriving nightlife and cinema-goers have plenty of choice.

Culturally, Aberdeen caters for all tastes. His Majesty's Theatre, a magnificent Edwardian building, attracts international companies performing ballet, theatre, opera and light entertainment. The concert halls regularly feature classical, contemporary and rock concerts. Exceptional museums and an art gallery, including the University's museums and collections, display the visual arts, local heritage including unique artefacts and correspondence between Queen Victoria and her servant John Brown (immortalised in the film Mrs Brown with Judi Dench and Billy Connolly). Balmoral, the Royals Highland residence, is of course not far away in the beautiful countryside of Royal Deeside.

The city's award-winning Maritime Museum brings the history of the North Sea to life through multi-media displays and exhibitions. The popular Lemon Tree venue, with its cafe-bar atmosphere, attracts an exciting mixture of contemporary theatre, dance, stand-up comedy and music. And finally, some of the best whisky distilleries in Scotland are close to hand. It has got a lot to reveal, not all of it about the knowledge economy.

Find out more about Aberdeen on Visitscotland.com

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