Edinburgh Castle: Scotland’s mighty fortress and symbol of strength

When it comes to ancient historic castles, Edinburgh Castle in Scotland is no April Fool's joke, it's the real deal.

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of a kind (visitscotland.com)

EDINBURGH, Scotland, April 1, 2017 – Massive and dominating in size, Edinburgh Castle sits atop a rock overlooking the city as a powerful symbol of Scotland’s national heritage. There is evidence that the site has been occupied by humans as far back as the Iron Age.

Edinburgh Castle is naturally fortified on three sides (visitscotland.com)

One thing is certain, there has been a royal castle on the site since the 12th century, and it continued to be a royal residence until 1633.

Situated at one of the extremities of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle is the most-visited paid tourist attraction in Scotland playing host to more than 1.4 million people each year.

Edinburgh dancers are just one of the highlights of the Tattoo (visitscotland.com)

It also serves as the site for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which has taken place on the Esplanade during the annual Edinburgh International Festival each August since 1952. The Tattoo has become such a fixture in Scottish tradition that the annual live audience attracts nearly 220,000 visitors while television broadcasts reaches 100,000 million viewers in more than 30 countries.


Parades, pipers, drums and performers from every corner of the world join with Scottish regiments to participate in the grand military celebration that always concludes with a lone piper on the castle battlements playing a traditional “pibroch.”

The Royal Mile connects the castle with Holyrood Palace (wikipedia)

A pibroch consists of a medley of extended compositions featuring elaborate variations. In the simplest of terms pibroch means “piping.”

The castle was built upon an extinct volcano which rose about 350 million years ago and was then “plugged.” With rocky cliffs rising 450 feet above sea level on three sides, the only readily accessible route to the castle is from the east, making it an obvious defensive stronghold.

Even in bright sunshine Edinburgh Castle is imposing (visitscotland.com)

Edinburgh, with its ancient alleyways known as “closes,” emerges from the main street, or Royal Mile at the castle, to Holyrood Palace which is the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland. Closes are small private alleys and courtyards branching off to the north and south and were usually named after a memorable resident.

Statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace have guarded the entrance since 1929 (wikipedia)

Compactly nestled among heather-carpeted hills, wind swept valleys and dales and illustrious citizens like Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.K Rowling, John Knox, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Queen of Scots and Robert Louis Stevenson to mention a few among hundreds, Edinburgh conjures images of a perpetual time machine.

The first documented reference to a castle at Edinburgh was written in an account of the death of King Malcolm III by John of Fordun in “Castle of Maidens” in the fall of 1093.

Upon the death of King Alexander III in 1288, Edward I of England was appointed to determine competing claims for the vacant Scottish crown. He later chose to attack Edinburgh and claim the throne for himself in the First War of Scottish Independence in 1296.

It took Edward just three days to accomplish the task.
In 1314, Robert the Bruce hand-picked thirty men to attack the castle along its north face, where it was believed to be easier to scale the wall, hoping to reclaim the fortress.

In his epic poem “The Brus,” John Barbour relates that when Bruce succeeded, he immediately ordered the destruction of the castle walls to prevent re-occupation by the British.

The One O’Clock Gun always attracts a huge crowd (geographic.org.uk)

By then, Bruce had re-taken most of the castles in Scotland, and four months later, he won a decisive victory at Bannockburn, a date as memorable for every Scot as the Fourth of July is for Americans.

It took 14 more years for Robert the Bruce to eventually claim full victory at the negotiating table, but the victorious he was, and it remains, in its own way, Scotland’s version of D-Day.

Today, statues of Robert the Bruce by Thomas Clapperton and William Wallace by Alexander Carrick have watched over the Gatehouse entrance of Edinburgh Castle since 1929.

In the mid-16th century, the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland was his daughter Mary who was only six days old when her father died.

Edinburgh has shrouded hills filled with heather and deep glacial lochs (wikipedia)

Mary spent most of her youth in France, while Scotland was run by regents. She returned to Scotland in August 1561 nine months after the death of her husband, King Francis II.

Following a tumultuous reign, Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587 as a result of a death warrant signed by her half-sister Elizabeth I.

The oldest building in the castle, as well as Edinburgh itself, is tiny St. Margaret’s Chapel. Constructed as a private chapel for the royal family in the 12th century, it is still used today for religious ceremonies, including weddings.

The main courtyard of the fortress was designed in the 15th century by James III. Now known as Crown Square, or Palace Yard, the vaults were used as a prison until the 19th century.

The square is comprised of the Royal Palace to the east, the Great Hall to the south, the Queen Anne Building to the west, and the National War Memorial to the north.

The Scottish National War Memorial honors Scottish soldiers and those who have served or are serving in Scottish regiments, as well as soldiers who died in the two world wars and more recent conflicts.

The One O’Clock gun is an accurate way to know the time each day (geographic.org.uk)

Perhaps the best-known tradition at Edinburgh Castle is the One O’clock gun which is fired every day precisely at 1 p.m. except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. The tradition was established in 1861 as a signal for ships in the Harbor of Leith and the Firth of Forth so they would know the time.

You see there are castles and then there are CASTLES, and everyone should agree that Edinburgh Castle is definitely worthy of its very own Tattoo.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

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