Random facts about Edinburgh

Martin Andersen Photo

Martin Andersen

04 November 2016

Time to Read


The kilt

Along the Royal Mile scores of kilt makers and souvenir shops, selling various items in specific tartans, line the cobbled street, and visitors can choose between endless designs that each belong to a certain clan. While the kilt was indeed worn in the Scottish Highlands up until the end of the 18###sup/sup### century, the modern version of it, with its bright colours, was in fact invented by the writer Walter Scott for the royal visit to Edinburgh in 1822. To honour the arrival of King George IV, as the first monarch to visit Scotland in over two centuries, the famous writer was placed in charge of organising a great pageant in the King’s honour. After the last Jacobite rebellion in the Highlands had been quashed at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, the kilt and other traditions were made illegal. However, the romanticist Walter Scott saw a way to bring back many colourful aspects of these traditions and the pageant thus came to focus on the clans of Scotland. Each clan, even the Lowland ones marched out in front of the king, wearing kilts in their own specific tartan (when these had been more of a regional thing before Culloden), and King George was so enthralled by the show, that he himself spent a minor fortune on a brightly coloured outfit. Although subsequent paintings of the monarch depict him in a red kilt, they have all kindly chosen to leave out the pink leggings that he wore underneath for the event. On returning to London, the king soon made the kilt a must-have garment among the elite and his successor, Queen Victoria, even decided to dress her young children in kilts as she started her own love affair with the beautiful city of Edinburgh and Scotland’s magnificent nature.


The Scott Monument

That Sir Walter Scott is one of the most important cultural figures in modern Scottish history is not only visible in the success of his novels such as Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, nor indeed in his role in the abovementioned royal pageant. Walter Scott is today remembered in various monuments and honours throughout Scotland –and nowhere more so than in Edinburgh. The epicentre of this is inarguably the grand Scott Memorial which rises sharply with its Gothic spire at the southern end of Princes Street. The largest monument to any writer in the world, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding city from the various viewing platforms that are found along the 287 steps. On your ascent you can look at the depictions of various characters from his novels, as well as the heads of 16 different Scottish writers such as Robert Burns, Lord Byron and James Hogg. The monument however is not the only place in the city that stands in honour of him. The nearby Waverley Station is named after his novel about the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament features numerous quotations from Scott’s novels, while the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile has a stone slab devoted to Scott in front of The Writer’s Museum. Further afield from the centre of the city, you’ll find another building that is named after the writer. On Corstorphine Hill near the Edinburgh Zoo, a tower in memorial to Scott rises above the treeline.


Edinburgh stands on seven hills like Rome

Corstorphine Hill as mentioned above is also part of another interesting part of Edinburgh. The romantic and Gothic buildings, castles and spires that paint the skyline of the capital have long drawn comparisons to other classical cities like Athens and Rome. To further these classical links, different claims and attempts have been made through the last couple of the centuries. One of these is that Edinburgh was founded on seven hills, just like the eternal city of Rome. Corstorphine Hill is one of these, but the more famous of the hills are Castle Rock, Calton Hill and the mighty Arthur’s Seat –all of which offer great views across the city. The latter features natural scenes that make it seem like you’ve been transported far away from the city, when in fact you’re only ever a ten minute walk from the Royal Mile. Descending from Arthur’s Seat to Holyrood Palace you’ll be able to see the outline of Calton Hill and a feature, which truly lives up to Edinburgh’s nickname as the ‘Athens of the North’. The National Monument of Scotland was originally intended to commemorate the fallen Scottish soldiers and sailors in the Napoleonic Wars. Unfortunately the project ran out of money halfway through its construction and the unfinished version quickly earned the nickname of ‘Edinburgh’s Folly’. Although there has been much debating about which hills that constitute the seven, with at least 10 hills in the area reaching above 30 metres, the general consensus is that the final three hills of the seven are Braid Hills, Blackford Hill and Craiglockhart Hill. A running race that includes these seven hills has been held since the early 1980s.


Auld Reekie

Edinburgh is a city of many names. Literary figures like Walter Scott and Robert Burns referred to it by its old Latin name of Edina, while the playwright Ben Jonson called it ‘Britaine’s other eye’. The most famous nickname for the Scottish capital however, and probably least flattering of all its monikers, is the title of Auld Reekie. Although you might think that this refers to how smelly the city used to be, reekie actually means smoky. The smell however often went hand in hand with the smoke and fog. The city grew steadily in population over the centuries and by the 18th century the Old Town had become a dense mass of houses and narrow streets. The smoke from the ovens and wood fires rose as a grey cloud above the city, while sewage and waste were dumped into the body of water known as Norloch below Edinburgh Castle. On summer days the stench from the Norloch would rise to the streets above and make the city a truly foul experience, rife with diseases and filth. Plans were put forward to expand the city and alleviate it of its putrid conditions and in 1767 the 26-year-old architect James Craig won the competition to plan Edinburgh’s New Town. With its linear streets and squares, the new part of the city was modelled on modern redevelopments, similar to Paris. The expansion of the city also meant the drenching of the Norloch, which today is where the Princes Street Gardens stand and although this cleared out the worst diseases, smells and smog, the smoke was soon replaced by steam-engines and coal-fires. Fortunately for us visitors today, the pollution and filth has long since been gotten rid of. Princes Street Gardens, the Royal Mile and the Old Town are beautiful sights attracting scores of tourists every year. The nickname however remains as a reminder of a different time and around every corner there are stories of a darker past that we will explore in another blog.


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