Standing on the basalt core of an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle is remarkable assemblage of buildings dating from the 12th to the 20th centuries, reflecting its changing role as fortress, royal palace, military garrison, and, and state prison. There is evidence of Bronze Age occupation of the site, which takes its name from Dun Eidin, a Celtic fortress captured by King Oswald of Northumbria in the 7th century.
The castle was a favorite royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, after which the king resided in England. After the Union of Parliaments in 1707, the Scottish regalia (Crown Jewels) were walled up in the palace for more than 100 years. The castle is now the zealous possessor of the so-called Stone of Destiny a relic of ancient Scottish kings that was seized by the English and not returned until 1996.
STONE OF DESTINY
The origins of this famous stone are steeped in myth and legend. It is said to have been Jacob’s pillow when he dreamed that the angels of God were descending to Earth from heaven. Scottish kings, from Kenneth I in 847, sat on the stone during coronation ceremonies. It was kept in Scone, Perthshire, which is why it is sometimes called The Stone of Scone. The stone was seized on Edward I’s invasion of Scotland in 1296 and taken to Westminster Abbey, where it was kept for 700 years. The 1326 Treaty of Northampton promised the return of the stone, but this was not honored until 1996, when a handover ceremony took place at the English-Scottish border and the stone was transported to Edinburgh Castle, where it remains today.
Ednburgh Castle is set in the Midland valley of Scotland. The rocky volcanic outcrops of Arthur’s Seat (823 ft/251m) and Salisbury Crags (400 ft/122m) dominate Edinburgh’s skyline. Salisbury Crags are igneous rocks exposed by the tilting of local rock and erosion by glaciers. Arthur’s Seat is the remnant of a Carboniferous volcano, partly eroded by glacial activity. Edinburgh Castle sits on a rock that plugs a vent of this volcano. The “crag” of basalt on which it stands was resistant to glacial erosion in the last Ice Age. This left a “tail” of soft sedimentary rock lying behind it, which forms Edinburgh’s main street, the Royal Mile.
THE MILITARY TATTOO
Since 1947, for three weeks over the summer, Edinburgh has hosted one of the world’s most important arts festivals, with every available venue overflowing with international artists and performers (from theaters to street corners). The festival is an exciting fusion of film, music, theater, dance, comedy, and literature. The most popular event is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, held every night on the Esplanade. The finest military bands perform, with bagpipers and drummers from Scottish regiments in full regalia. The music and matching, set against the backdrop of the illuminated Edinburgh Castle, make for marvelous spectacle.
Now on display in the Palace, the crown was restyled by James V of Scotland in 1540.
Complete with Flemish-style crow-stepped gables, this mid-18th-century building now serves as the officers’ mess for the castle garrison.
The castle’s northern defense commands spectacular view of Edinburgh’s New Town.
With its restored open-timber roof, the hall dates from the 15th century and was the meeting place of the Scottish parliament until 1639.
The Military Tattoo is held here.
Half Moon Battery
This was built in the 1570s as a platform for the artillery defending the castle’s northeastern wing.
St. Margaret’s Chapel
This stained-glass window depicts Malcom III’s saintly queen, to whom the chapel is dedicated. Probably built by her son, David I, the early 12th century, the chapel is the castle’s oldest surviving building.
French prisoners were held here during the wars with France in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their graffiti can still be seen, along with the objects they made.
In 1950, long before the Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland, a group of Scottish students stole the stone from Westminster Abbey. A search was mounted by the British, but it was not found until a year later in Scotland’s Arbroath Abbey.
The siege gun Mons Meg, near St. Margaret’s Chapel, was made in 1449 for the duke of Burgundy, who subsequently gave it to his nephew, James II of Scotland (r. 1437-60), in 1457. It was used by James IV (r. 1488-1513) against Norham Castle in England in 1497. After exploding during a salute to the duke of York, in 1682, the gun was kept in the Tower of London before being returned to Edinburgh in 1829.