history, dates back to the time when Malcolm III Canmore
(died 1093) after builing his castle, and a
chapel for his wife, Queen Margaret
within its walls - now the oldest building in the city.
The Abbey at
Holyrood, built by her son David I,
and the castle became focal points of Edinburgh and a thriving
community grew along side the road between them, now known as
The Royal Mile.
It was from the 1500s that the town became established as the
capital of Scotland, as the inhabitants, choosing to stay in proximity
to the protection of the castle, built tall narrow buildings along
a stretch known as Castlehill.
By the time of the birth of Mary,
Queen of Scots, in 1542, the pattern of narrow wynds
and closes between high tenements was well established. When James
VI took the throne England in 1603, Edinburgh lost its
status as the principal site of the royal court, although it continued
to have its own Parliament.
The Parliament then also ceased in 1707 following the Act of Union,
but the town prospered despite this, in a period of energetic
building during the "Enlightenment". The
Nor Loch was drained and filled and thousands of
new houses built in an elegant layout of Georgian squares and
The infusion of classical order and architecture was owing to
the work of Robert Adam, who discovered the "architectural
language" observed on his European "Grand Tour".
He was responsible for designing the magnificent Charlotte Square,
in 1791- the culmination to the development of the New Town.
Other detailed drawings and plans of classical structures and
ornamentation, by Gibbs and Campbell, informed the builders of
the time, responding to the wishes of their clients.
By the 1750's, Edinburgh was a booming centre of trade. The City
Chambers, built as a Royal Exchange for Merchants to conduct business
in, was built above the lower levels of several closes such as
the infamous Mary
King's close and Craig's
Close. Because of space restrictions, tall buildings
were built storey upon storey and rooms and cellars were excavated
from the ground below street level. The Royal Mile saw the first
ever skyscrapers with some buildings exceeding 10 stories high.
These extensive sections of subterranean houses, vaults, shops
and taverns still exist to this day, attracting visitors and tourists,
with ghost tales associated with its unhappy past.
The expansion of the New Town continued in the Victorian era,
but the Old Town tenements around the Royal Mile, now abandoned
by the wealthy professional classes were left to fall into a state
of increasing decay. Living conditions were cramped and insanitary,
leading to a cholera epidemic in the 1830's. It was also a period
of increased crime, with notable outrages such as the Burke
and Hare Murders of the 1820's.
This dichotomy of rich and poor, prestige and squalor, crime and
opportunity, would characterise the rise and prosperity of the
capital of Scotland.
The Improvement Act of 1867 was long overdue following a period
in which the oldest buildings simply started to crumble and fall
under their own weight. The public outcry that followed the collapse
of the Heave
Awa' House (killing 35 people) prompted the passing
of the Act of Improvement.
This legislation allowed the council to tear down anything that
looked like it might fall down, and commission a series of major
changes which would transform several parts of the Old Town.
Plaque in St. Mary's Street
(Lord Provost in 1865) widened narrow wynds into streets and built
new tenements at locations such as Blackfriars Street
and St Mary's Street. The Old West Bow
was demolished and new streets were cut through the maze of tenements
and closes to improve access to areas both inside and outside
the Old Town district.
Victoria Street joined the Grassmarket
to George IV Bridge and Cockburn Street
joined the Royal Mile with the train station at Waverley.
Later in the 1880's Partrick
Geddes, town planner, remodelled
sections of the Royal Mile in the Canongate,
and also near the top of The Mound where he featured
courtyards and gardens, reminiscent of those built by the first
occupants 500 years before.
Prior to the Second World War, rennovation and reconstruction
of areas in the Old Town, such as the Canongate,
proved haphazard, with little attention payed to historical accuracy
or a sense of architectural homogeny.
Today life is being breathed back into the Old Town with an influx
of new residents and business. Now listed as a conservation area,
old buildings are being restored and cared for by the Old
Town Renewal Trust.
The rising popularity of Edinburgh as a place to live and as a
centre for local and international tourism and commerce, is due,
in part, to the establishment of the Edinburgh
In the 1960's areas of the New Town were being pulled down and
redeveloped at an alarming rate, though the trend was reversed
by the New Town Conservation Committee.
In recent times buildings have been restored using traditional,
hence more sympathetic methods, and it seems likely that this
investment in business and heritage will ensure that Edinburgh
remains one of Europe's most striking and historically interesting