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March, 2013

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A brief history of Edinburgh..

Edinburgh Castle and the volcanic rock it sits on has been occupied by man since the early bronze age, despite its prominent position it has been sacked many times and 1650 was used as a barracks for the Royal Scots Regiment and a prisoner of war camp for Napoleonic sailors, now the castle is a major tourist attraction and hosts the Royal Military Tattoo and the One O'clock Gun.

Modern Edinburgh can trace it roots back to the 12th Century when, after the Dark Ages, it was one of 15 "Burghs charters" created during the reign of David I allowing freedom of trade and privileges to the local community. In 1153 a Royal mint was established in Edinburgh.

The Rise of Edinburgh
Edinburgh built its wealth on trading and exporting Wools and Leathers to mainland Europe and after 1330 when the town of Berwick was lost to the English, there was very little competition on the east coast of Scotland. In 1532 with the formal establishment of the Court of Session during the reign of James V, Edinburgh became a focal for the administration of the Stewart dynasty. Coupled with the monopolistic Merchants by 1590's it accounted for over 72% of Scotland's export taxes. During the 16th Century Edinburgh was one of only 3 towns including Aberdeen and Perth which had a population of over 5000.

By 1650 many workers had moved out of the “Old Town” with its high taxes and new suburbs and towns started to grow including Leith, Dean Village, Dalry, Dalkieth and Towns as far as Haddington and Kircaldy benefited from the growth of Edinburgh. The land owners of Fife grew wealthy through importing large amounts of salt and coal for curing of meat exported from Edinburgh.

The Union and New Town
In 1707 the Scottish Parliament went into a 292 year recession (see below) as a result of the political union of Scotland and England which gave Scotland 45 seats in the new 558-seat British Parliament. Many of the Scottish Political Figures spent most of their time in London and with the wealth that this generated many fine properties were built north of the border.

The Lord Provost George Drummond's (1725-6) vision of a new Edinburgh was important in inspiring the building of a new medical School and improving the living conditions in the City such as the draining of Old Nor' Loch where now the Princes Street Gardens and Waverly station are situated. By 1755 Edinburgh's population had grown to over 56,000, the Old Town had become overcrowded. Consequently after an act of parliament the plans were made to build a new town on the ridge to the north of the Old Town.

In 1767 after six plans short listed for the design of the New Town were considered, the unknown 22 year old architect James Craig won the contract to build the new town. Work Commenced in 1795 on the New Town which with the Old Town became a World Heritage Site in 1995.

Charlotte Square at the West end of George Street was designed by Robert Adam and is often considered one of the finest Georgian squares in Britain. Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, is on the north side of Charlotte Square.

“Era of Enlightenment”
During the 18th and 19th Centuries Edinburgh's wealth and Middle classes continued to grow and Edinburgh became an important centre of intellectual and academic achievement in the Western world. Figures included, David Hume, Adam Smith, James Clerk Maxwell, Alexander Graham Bell, James Young, Authors Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Walter Scott. The City also became an important financial and insurance centre for Scotland with the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland, The Commercial Bank and the British Linen Bank.

The Modernisation of the Old Town did not occur until 1861 with the evidence of continued epidemics of Typhoid and Cholera initiated the cleansing of closes (See Real Mary Kings Close) and widening of Cockburn and Chambers streets. Sir Patrick Geddes was an important figure who revived the University in the Old Town and attracted the Professional and middle classes back into the Old Town.

20th Century and beyond
During the first half of the 20th century with the Port of Leith falling into disuse (The docks were expanded in 1833 and were a major factor in bankrupting the city) the New and the Old Towns began to go into decline. When in 1947 the Edinburgh Festival started which had a rejuvenating impact on the city and stopped the decline. The growth of the fringe provided new uses for the derelict buildings in the old town. Edinburgh changed from being a city of merchants to that of being the 4th largest financial centre in Europe with new financial centre being built around the west end and Lothian Road. Edinburgh Lawyers also seem to have thrived in the city and many can be seen after work in the Old Victorian Financial Headquarters in the New Towns which have been converted into Pubs and Clubs.

In 1999 the Scottish Nationalists got their Parliament back from the English giving them the opportunity to build the fantastic and massively controversial Parliament Building at the foot of the Royal Mile. Neither Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar who commissioned the Project or its Leading Spanish Architect Enric Miralles survived to see the Building complete. With Holyrood Palace and the Exhibition Dynamic earth all within close proximity there is plenty to keep vistors occupied for a day or too.