Main Scottish Cities
“Edinburgh,” said writer Robert Louis Stevenson, “is what Paris ought to be.” The city of Edinburgh, affectionately known as “Auld Reekie” (Old Smokey) is the historic, cosmopolitan and culture capital of Scotland. Stevenson called his city “This profusion of eccentricities, this dream in masonry and living rock is not a drop-scene in a theatre, but a city in the world of reality.”
Edinburgh was originally known as Din Eidyn, the Fort of Eidyn, until 638 – a reference to the fort that stood where the castle now stands. It became a town and a royal burgh in the 12th Century and in 1329 Robert the Bruce gave the town jurisdiction over the Port of Leith. The burgh was enclosed within the Flodden Wall after 1513. For 200 years the wall marked the boundary of Edinburgh and as a result restricted development, and it grew up, instead of out, as the population increased. The town became overcrowded, so expansion was required. Land to the north of the Old Town was cleared for the building of the New Town.
The commanding castle, high on its impregnable rock in the south, looks down upon the many spires and turrets that make up the Old City, a truly medieval mix of churches, chapels, cathedrals, law offices, government buildings, royal residences and tenement houses. At one end of the Royal Mile lie the Castle ramparts; at the other end is the magnificent Palace of Holyrood house, where Mary, Queen of Scots, returned from France tried to turn back the clock. It is protected to its rear by the looming, ancient volcanic mass of Arthur’s Seat, the city’s own mountain.
Along this spine of the pre-18th Century city, on the summit of the narrow ridge in what is now called the Old Town, you find the Law Courts and the Advocate’s Library that once housed the Parliament of an independent nation. The Cathedral of St. Giles is crowned with its unusual 15th Century tower.
In the middle of the great divide between the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, is the 37-acre park known as Princes Street Gardens, opened in 1876. The motto of Edinburgh, carved over the old castle gate, is “Sic Itur ad Astra” – “This way to the stars.”
During much of the 19th Century, the city that has earned the title “Athens of the North”, experienced a golden age of literature and learning. Prominent citizens have included philosopher David Hume, economist Adam Smith, novelists Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, biographer James Boswell, physician Sir James Simpson and surgeon James Lister.
By awarding Edinburgh the permanent title ‘City of Literature’, UNESCO recognised Scotland’s love of words, and celebrated the wealth of culture.
12 Things to Know About Edinburgh...
1. Edinburgh’s population is over 460 thousand, swelling to over a million during its famous arts festivals in August.
2. Edinburgh hosts the biggest New Year street party in the world. (Hogmanay).
3. JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, wrote her first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in a cafe in Edinburgh.
4. Sean Connery grew up in Edinburgh and as a boy, delivered milk to Fettes School, where the fictitious character of James Bond was educated.
5. The city’s Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre is dedicated to the 300-year history of the drink.
6. Edinburgh University, one of the world’s most famous universities, was established in 1583.
7. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was born in Edinburgh. A statue of Sherlock Holmes, in Picardy Place, celebrates his birthplace.
8. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was born in Edinburgh.
9. Robert Louis Stevenson lived in the New Town. Famous landmarks with RLS connections include the Jekyll & Hyde Pub, Deacon Brodie’s Tavern and The Hawes Inn in South Queensferry.
10. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, containing historic apartments where Mary, Queen of Scots, lived.
11. The Royal Yacht Britannia served the Royal Family for 44 years and its new permanent home is at the historic port of Leith.
12. Edinburgh, along with Bath, Rome and Venice, has been designated a World Heritage Site.
GLASGOW (MERCHANT CITY)
Located on the River Clyde, west of Edinburgh, Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland. It dates back to the 6th century when St. Mungo established a church where Glasgow Cathedral now stands. Glasgow University was founded in 1451.
But the growth of the city was slow until the late 17th century. Development increased when the town became an ideal location for trade with North America and the West Indies (particularly slaves, textiles, sugar and tobacco). It later became famous for heavy industry such as shipbuilding and at its height it was the “Second City of the British Empire.”
In the 1980s, Glasgow began to change its image and today it is one of the most exciting cities in Britain. Its fine civic buildings rival the grand panorama of Edinburgh, and the friendliness of Glaswegians contrasts with the cooler residents of the capital.
Culturally, Glasgow is home to Scottish Opera and Ballet, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), led the Scottish Art Nouveau movement and is well-represented in the world-famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
ABERDEEN (GRANITE CITY)
Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city, a prosperous cosmopolitan city which first developed around the 12th Century. St. Machar’s Cathedral dates from around that time. Gallow Hill was used for executions until 1776.
By the 13th Century Aberdeen was an important trade and fishing centre. By the 19th Century shipbuilding was an important industry which declined in the mid-20th Century. But then, in the late 1960s, oil fields in the North Sea were discovered.
The views of the harbour, beach and city sum up Aberdeen’s enduring dependency on the North Sea
Aberdeen is known to many as the “City of Roses”. Around 12,000 different types of roses cover every square inch of Duthie Park’s Rose Hill.
Scotland’s fourth largest city, Dundee lies between the Firth of Tay and Sidlaw Hills. Dundee became known for the three “J’s”: 1) Jute – a cheap fibre for weaving, 2) Jam – marmalade manufacturing, and 3) Journalism – publishing firm DC Thomson.
In 1309 Robert the Bruce was proclaimed king in Dundee. The Old Steeple dates from 1442 and is the oldest building in the city. It was set alight by the English in 1548 and used as a prison from 1588. During a siege in 1651, General Lumsden and his men held out for 3 days; eight hundred men plus 200 women and children were executed. “The Discovery”, Captain Scott’s polar research ship, was built here and is now docked at the old ferry terminal.
Inverness, the capital and principal crossroads of the Highlands, has an enviable location at the head of the Great Glen and on the shores of the Moray Firth. It is a bustling and cosmopolitan millennium city dissected by the charming River Ness and overlooking the river is Inverness Castle (1830s). The Eden Court Theatre is the focal point of cultural life in the Highlands and Bught Park is the setting for the annual Highland Games.
Stirling is Scotland’s youngest city, where the Wars of Independence were fought and won. For three centuries, monarchs ruled there in splendour and merchants and craftsmen plied their trade. “Stirling, like a huge brooch, clasps Highlands and Lowlands together,” wrote Alexander Smith in 1856. The city first received the “burgh” title in the 12th century. It was granted a Royal Charter, becoming one of the most important towns of medieval Scotland. Stirling Castle sits high on its rock overlooking the town while the Wallace Monument looks down to the bridges crossing the River Forth.