Edinburgh Castle: Ageless Beauty

12 Jan 2006
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Multi-coloured fireworks exploding from the Castle at the climax of the Festival is one of the most widely used images symbolising the power and allure of modern Scotland.

Multi-coloured fireworks exploding from the Castle at the climax of the Festival is one of the most widely used images symbolising the power and allure of modern Scotland. Over 1.2 million visitors every year prove that the magnetism of the castle remains strong.

For the myriad of tourists, the history of this mysterious stronghold is as much a reason to enter as the treasures it guards. In 2008, a £2.7 million revamped entrance with enhanced ticket facilities and elegant terrace allowed for the rising numbers of intrepid explorers. Paradoxically, the proud monument which overlooks Scotland's capital like an all-seeing watchman was constructed to withstand invasions, one of its many beguiling ironies.

Steadfast and strong

Castle Rock, upon which the fortress stands, was the focal point for the birth of Edinburgh. Used as a fortification for over two thousand years, the earliest building still intact on the site is a tiny chapel, holding 25 people, built by King David I in memory of his mother, Queen, or Saint, Margaret, who died in 1093 and was later canonised by Pope Innocent IV.

Those gathering below the Castle each Christmas, supping mulled wine in the German markets, or eyeing its silhouette from the heights of the Edinburgh Wheel, will see little evidence of its wounds of war, garnered when it was a theatre of conflict and revolt.

It is perhaps testimony to its position, 400 feet up on a 700-million-year-old volcano that, during centuries of sackings and assaults, it was only ever 'taken' twice. On those occasions a little local knowledge of its buttresses was possibly advantageous; the two successes coming for Scots forces breaching English garrisons. The final attempt on its walls came in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his forces tried but failed to capture it - a story familiar in the Castle's history.

Changing guises

Centuries earlier, King David II had initiated the first full-scale defence works to its battered walls following the bloody wars of Independence with England. James IV added the present day Great Hall, complete with hammerbeam roof, and it was even deployed as an ordnance factory a far cry from today when it annually hosts the world famous Military Tattoo, the Festival fireworks and, in July 2005, even entertained the world's media at the launch of Scotland-based author JK. Rowling's hugely-anticipated sixth Potter book, .

At the foot of the famous walkway known as the Royal Mile, where Kings and Queens travelled on foot between the Castle and Holyrood stands the Scottish Parliament Building, opened in 2004. The Castle itself, however, was the nation's first Parliament after David I assembled a group of nobles and clergymen to man the first 'executive' in 1215.

Into a new age

Like the skyline of modern, cosmopolitan Edinburgh, the appearance of Scotland's most visited tourist attraction has altered radically with the passing of time and the advent of peace and prosperity.

After staging its final battles, the Castle was gradually bestowed with an attractive array of cosmetic improvements.

In 1753, the cobbled esplanade was constructed and later broadened and beautified with walls and railings. Over time, the Castle took on the look of a stronghold designed to house the nation's cherished relics as well as French and Dutch prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars. Scotland's ancient Crown Jewels a crown, sceptre and sword, and the Stone of Destiny, are lodged within its vaults. It remains guarded by the Light Infantry, a reminder of its pivotal role in national defence.

The Royal Artillery fire the famous one o'clock gun, synchronised with the time ball in Calton Hill's Nelson Monument and Greenwich Mean Time. Historically, it sounded out across the Firth of Forth so ships captains could set their chronometers accurately. It is now preserved as a popular tradition.

Unrivalled vista

While the Castle's towers, squares and Half Moon Battery make up a conglomeration of structures which remain forged in the mind, it is its Old Town setting which help makes it one of Europe's most unforgettable skyscapes.

Revellers skating on the open-air Ice Wonderland in the winter months or listening to famous bands as they wow the crowds during the Hogmanay street party, will no doubt have occasion to glance up at the impressive scene before them.

It was a true Rennaissance Man, Sir Patrick Geddes, who transformed the area leading down from the Castle's sloping esplanade. The baronial fa̤ades of the whitewashed Ramsay Gardens apartments make them look like an imaginary cluster of houses, from another time and place, suspended in the air. The reconstruction was a vision created by Geddes, a Ballater-born botany student, later to be known as the 'father' of town planning.

When number 14 Ramsay Gardens was put on the market in 2006, it was said that with the B-listed complex's unrivalled views on all sides, to Fife and the Isle of May that "No king or queen ever had finer outlooks from palace windows."

Geddes, whose buildings helped win some members of the well-heeled classes back to the Old Town from the Georgian New Town, also revamped what remains Edinburgh's oldest purpose-built attraction. Perched beside the Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile, The Outlook Tower with Camera Obscura still delights international visitors with its Magic Gallery of Illusions, images of Victorian Edinburgh and the largest display of 3D holograms in Europe.

International fame

Tourists travelling to the capital, whether to see some world-class theatre during the August Festival or for the Torchlight Procession at New Year, will undoubtedly be aware of the Castle's most famous annual event.

When the first Edinburgh Military Tattoo took place in 1950 with a slim, 8-item programme, few would have imagined it would blossom into such an internationally important cultural showcase. The word Tattoo is a derivation from a closing-time phrase yelled in hostelries in the Low Countries four centuries ago, 'doe den tap toe' meaning 'turn off the taps'.

Millions of people have attended the Tattoo since its inception, centrepiece of the Festival. It attracts an annual TV audience of 100 million and in 2009 £6.2 million was grossed at the box office. Participants from 40 countries have taken part in the event since it began.

A haunting refrain

Billed as one of the most spectacular shows in the world, the 90-minute performance combines 1000 global performers, special effects, haunting music and modern pyrotechnics to produce a memorable pageant of ceremony, colour and noise which culminates in the pibroch; a stirring lament from the Castle walls, played by the Lone Piper.

Such is the opinion of this event around the world that the Russians are mirrored it in Red Square Square in September 2007 in front of St. Basil's Cathedral. Only time will tell whether the Kremlin provides such a stunning backdrop to Russia's Tattoo but there is no doubt Edinburgh's Castle is deemed the perfect stage for Scotland's original.

It is an iconic building known in all continents of the world. For those who find themselves away from home, the image of the Castle will no doubt enter the imagination when they think of what Scotland is, and what it offers the world.

Interested in seeing Edinburgh Castle for yourself?

Find out more here:

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Edinburgh Festivals

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