Built in 1103 Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world. Today it is Scotland's most-visited paid tourist attraction and provides the backdrop to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo during the annual Edinburgh Festival.
Located on a rocky hill formed by a volcanic eruption several million years ago, the site has been inhabited since the 9th century, with a castle having existed on the site since 1103 when one was built by King David I (r. 1124-1153).
During its existence Edinburgh Castle has served as a royal residence to several English and Scottish Monarchs until 1633 when it ceased to be a Royal Palace and became a military barracks. Standing at 443 feet (135 metres) above sea level it still contains some of the original construction and is one of Scotland’s oldest buildings.
Over the centuries the castle has been the centre of a number of battles, as controlling the castle meant controlling Edinburgh and consequently Scotland. It is believed that the castle was besieged 26 times during its existence making it the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world. It was involved in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century and the Jacobite rising of 1745.
An essential asset to enable it to withstand sieges is a supply of water. Although the castle had a well 111 feet (43 metres) deep, which provided water it was barely sufficient.
The most damaging siege was the Lang (Long) Siege, this commenced in 1571 when English forces tried to capture Mary, Queen of Scots and besieged the castle for two years. During that time most of the medieval defences were destroyed by artillery bombardment. The exception being St Margaret’s Chapel. This was built around 1130 by King David I, and named it for his mother Margaret Queen of Scots, also known as Saint Margaret of Scotland, who died at the site in 1093. Queen Margaret was said to have performed many acts of charity and was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1250.
In the 1500s, the chapel was used as a gunpowder store and was later given bomb-proof vaulting.
The arches are original, while other features such as the stained-glass windows are more recent. Fresh flowers are always on display, these are provided by St Margaret’s Chapel Guild, the members of which all share the saint’s name and live in Scotland. The Chapel is regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh.
In 1650 the castle was captured by the English who used it to contain English military prisoners, a use that continued until the early 19th Century.
In 1728, the castle's defences had deteriorated and become inadequate, and a major strengthening of the fortifications was carried out throughout the 1720s and 1730s. This was the period when most of the artillery defences and bastions on the north and west sides of the castle were constructed and included the Argyle Battery, which is a six-gun battery built in the 1730s by the 2nd Duke of Argyll, although the guns are not the original ones. The castle also includes the Mills Mount Battery, the Low Defences and the Western Defences. The Forewall Battery predates these in that it was rebuilt by James V on the lines of the Medieval Defences in 1544.
The first known purchase of a gun was in 1384. During the 15th century the castle was increasingly used as an arsenal and armaments factory. In 1457/8 the great canon Mons Meg was obtained by the castle.
Mons Meg has a bore of 19 inches (48cm) and is believed to be the largest gun ever fired in anger in Britain. Obtaining its name from the fact that it was made in the town of Mons, Belgian, it could project a stone ball for almost 2 miles (3.2km). Taken to the Tower of London following the Jacobite Rising in 1745, it was returned to Edinburgh in 1829.
Today the British Army is responsible for some parts of the castle, although its presence is largely ceremonial and administrative. Since 1927 some of the castle buildings have housed regimental museums which tourist are able to visit.
The castle is Scotland's most most-visited paid tourist attraction and provides the backdrop to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo during the annual Edinburgh Festival. This is staged in the Square in front of the castle.
Visitors to the castle will enter via the Gatehouse entrance, which leads from the square. The Gatehouse has statues of Robert the Bruce by Thomas Clapperton and William Wallace by Alexander Carrick although these were not added until 1929.
They then walk up and through the Portcullis Gate built in 1574-77 as the main gateway into the castle on the site of the medieval Constable’s Tower which was destroyed in the Lang Siege.
At the side of the gate are the Lang Stairs which consist of a flight of 70 steps which was the main route to the summit in medieval times. The curved wall was once part of the Constable Tower.
Continuing along the road leads to the battlements and the display of canon on the Mills Mount Battery, and the 1 O’clock gun which is fired each day to indicate the time of 1 O’clock. A number of guns have been used since 1853 with the current one – a 105mm – which was started to be used in 2001.
Once past the Battery, halfway up the hill on the right, is the Governors House. This is a Georgian building built in 1742 for the castle governor: It is not open to the public.
At the top of the hill is the Crown Square. This was created in the late 1400s as the main courtyard of the castle. Around its sides are four buildings. The Royal Palace, the Great Hall, Queen Anne Building and the National War Memorial.
The Royal Palace houses the Stone of Destiny and the Scottish regalia, or Crown Jewels, known as the Honours of Scotland. These consist of the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State. Photographs are not permitted of these items.
The Palace had its interior significantly altered during the mid to late 19th century.
The Great Hall was built between 1503-13 for James IV (1488-1513). Mary, Queen of Scots held a banquet in the hall on her return to Scotland from France in 1561. The last time that a reigning monarch stayed in the castle was by King Charles I on the occasion of the night before his Scottish coronation in 1633 with a feast in the Great Hall. The Hall was originally use for ceremonies but in 1650 was fitted with three floors of galleries to accommodate rows of beds and was used as a soldier’s barracks until 1799. In 1886 it was restored as the Great Hall. One thing of note is the hammerbeam timber ceiling which rests on stones carved with heads and such symbols as the thistle.
Like the Palace the Great Hall was also restored during the mid to late 19th century to its medieval splendour. Today it contains a display of weapons and armour.
Queen Anne Building was constructed as accommodation 1708 and is now provides education and function facilities as well as housing the tea roams for visitors.
At the north side of Crown Square is the National War Memorial which was created in the former North Barracks in the 1920s to honour those killed in the First World War. Later it was extended to include those killed in the Second World War and later conflicts. Opened in 1927, the memorial stands on the site of the church of St Mary, which was used as a munitions store in the 1530s, it was demolished in 1755.
The castles importance as a part of Scotland's national heritage has been recognised from the early 19th century, since which various restoration programmes have been carried out.