The site of Edinburgh Castle is where Scotland truly began. The castle sits on a high, rocky hill with a narrow ridge running east above the Old Town of Edinburgh. There has been a fortification of some kind here for thousands of years. The castle has existed through layers of time and history, and it is indeed magnificent.
Edinburgh Castle has highlighted the city’s skyline for 800 years, is a national symbol, and it is Scotland’s most popular site to visit. The castle was the vital possession in Scotland’s historic struggles. It has served as a royal palace, barracks, prison, parliament, and is home to the Scottish crown jewels and the fabled Stone of Destiny.
The Castle through Time – What to See:
St. Margaret’s Chapel
St. Margaret’s Chapel is an intimate place and the oldest surviving structure from the medieval castle. Built by David 1 in the 12th century for his mother, it is still used for baptisms and weddings. Appreciate the lovely stained glass and exquisite, thin Norman windows.
The Argyle Battery
Looking for views? Head to the Argyle Battery. As you wind up Castle Rock, catch your breath and enjoy the vista. Behind you is the Lang Stairs, a steep, curved flight of steps which was the main entrance in medieval times.Every day except Sunday a great 25-pound cannon is fired. Cover your ears and have a blast!
The Crown Room
On the first floor of the Royal Palace, the room holds the ancient Honors of Scotland, consisting of crown, scepter, and sword. The crown is made of Scottish gold, studded with semi-precious stones from the Cairngorms. Both the sword and scepter were gifts from the Pope. They were locked away after union with England in 1707, and forgotten, until they were unearthed by Sir Walter Scott in 1818.
The Stone of Destiny
The Stone of Destiny was originally at Scone Palace. This was the stone on which Scottish kings were crowned until the stone was taken by Edward I to Westminster Abbey in 1615. It was returned by the British govt. in 1996. It is a symbol of the revival of Scottish nationalism and an important relic of ancient Scottish kings.
The Gatehouse and Portcullis Gate
The gatehouse was built 150 years ago for its looks rather than function. Two bronze statues stand, one of William Wallace and the other of Robert the Bruce. The original gate is from 1574.
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James IV in 1566 in the room where the Crown Jewels and Stone of Destiny are now displayed. Cromwell took the castle for England in 1650.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall, with its restored open-timber roof, dates from the 15th century and was the meeting place of the Scottish Parliament until 1639. The roof beams are unique.
Mons Meg, the gigantic cannon at Edinburgh Castle, doesn’t fire. Built in the 15th century, it was a siege gun that fired a 400-pound cannon ball a distance of two miles. It could only be used a few times per year. The last time it was fired was in 1681.
The Scottish National War Memorial
This honors the 200,000 Scottish soldiers who died in World Wars I and II. The entrance, flanked by a lion and a unicorn, is to your right as you enter Crown Square. In an open chamber, at the heart of the building, the peak of the 70-million-year old rock on which the castle stands has been polished into a shrine. The soldiers are protected from above by St. Michael.
Prisoners of War
Here are the vaults where American, French, Spanish, Dutch and Irish prisoners were held during the American Revolutionary War. French prisoners carved their names on doors, and their writing can still be seen.
The one million people who visit Edinburgh Castle each year must enter by crossing the esplanade. They pass through the gate and up a cobbled hill. Then, when they step inside the thick walls, present reality is left behind. The castle, and her past, is a community that is complete. It is powerful, other-worldly, and feels separate from the rest of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle towers over the city from high on a wedge of rock, a solid symbol of the Scottish nation that has retained her magnificent identity throughout time.
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