Dominating the Edinburgh skyline, Edinburgh Castle is not only an icon of the city, but of Scotland itself. An ancient fortress sitting on a hill, Roman records describe a settlement on Castle Rock as early as the 2nd Century and the first castle there is attributed to King Ebraucus as early as 989 B.C. The Castle as it is now was begun in the 11th Century and its oldest part, St. Margaret’s Chapel was presumably built in the 12th Century by Margaret’s son, King David I. A seat for Scottish kings and centre of political power for centuries, it has its own interesting history full of fascinating facts.
Don’t Blow Your Top
Castle Hill on which Edinburgh Castle sits, is actually the plug for a long-extinct volcano. The hill is estimated to have risen 350 million years ago during the lower Carboniferous period, which cooled to form a very hard dolerite. Subsequent glacial erosion during the Ice Age left the hill as it is now and formed a significantly high point for the eventual settlements and castle.
Legen—wait for it—dary
Edinburgh Castle certainly has its share of legends. One of them states that if University of Edinburgh students pass through its gates, they will fail their final exams. Additionally, Edinburgh Castle is one of the most haunted places in Scotland. One of the castle’s more famous ghosts, the Lone Piper, was once a boy sent into newly discovered tunnels underground and told to keep playing so others could measure his progress. He was never seen again, but the pipes can still be heard in the castle.
The height of Castle Hill, which is over 430 feet above sea level, provides an excellent natural defence for Edinburgh Castle and prevents entry on the northern, western, and southern sides of the Castle. The only way to enter is from the east.
Besides being a seat of power, Edinburgh Castle has had several other uses over its history. During the 15th Century, the castle was used as an arsenal and the manufacturing of arms was commonplace. The castle was also used as a prison several times, most notably during Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, and the Napoleonic Wars. The last time it was used as such was during World War I.
Not that Kind of Tattoo
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual series of military band performances by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth, and International military bands in the Castle’s esplanade. The term “tattoo” comes from the Dutch term “Doe den tap toe” (with “toe” pronounced “too”), which means “close the (beer) tap” and is the Dutch equivalent of “last orders” and was played to let tavern owners know it was time to close the taps and send the soldiers back to their barracks. Today, an average of 217,000 people attend the Tattoo each year, of which 30% comes from Scotland, 35% from the rest of the UK, and another 35% are international tourists.
The Walls Have Ears
In the Great Hall of the Castle are the “Laird’s Lugs”, or “Lord’s Ears”. These are holes above the fireplace that King James IV would use to eavesdrop on important meetings. When Soviet Premier Mikail Gorbachev visited Edinburgh Castle in 1984, Soviet Security insisted that the holes be closed so no one could listen in on his conversations.
Mons Meg Cannon is a giant cannon made around 1449 and fired cannonballs three times the size of a human head. Each cannonball weighed 400 lbs. and could be fired a distance of two miles.
Not only is the chapel the oldest building in the Castle, it is the oldest building in all of Scotland. It was named after Queen Margaret (later St. Margaret) who fled England after the Norman conquest of 1066 and later married King Malcolm III. When her husband and eldest son Edward were killed in the Battle of Alnwick by English forces on 13 November 1093, it was said that her heart couldn’t take it, and (though already ill) she died three days later. Her son, King Duncan I, dedicated the chapel in her memory.
Sticks and Stones
The Stone of Scone, known to the English as the Stone of Destiny, has been part of the coronation of the British monarch since Edward I captured it in 1296. In 1950, it was stolen from Westminster Abbey by four Scottish students to return to Scotland, eventually depositing it at the altar of Arbroath Abbey. Scottish authorities returned it to Westminster Abbey, but in 1996, the stone was returned to Edinburgh Castle where it sits beside the Scottish Crown Jewels. It is understood that the Stone of Scone would be lent to the Crown for the next monarch’s coronation.
Edinburgh Castle is the most visited location in Scotland, with more than 1.4 million people visiting it in 2013.