Old Town, Edinburgh
|Old and New Towns of Edinburgh|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|UNESCO region||Europe and North America|
|Inscription||1995 (19th Session)|
The Old Town (Scots: Auld Toun) is the name popularly given to the oldest part of Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh. It has preserved its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings. Together with the 18th-century New Town, it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The "Royal Mile" is a name coined in the early 20th-century for the main artery of the Old Town which runs on a downwards slope from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey. Narrow closes (alleyways), often no more than a few feet wide, lead downhill on either side of the main spine in a herringbone pattern.
Notable buildings in the Old Town include St. Giles' Cathedral, the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, Surgeons' Hall, the Royal Museum of Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Parliament Building. The area has numerous underground streets and vaults that are relics of previous phases of construction.
The street layout, typical of the old quarters of many northern European cities, is made especially picturesque in Edinburgh, where the castle perches on top of a rocky crag, the remnants of an extinct volcano, and the main street runs down the crest of a ridge from it. This "crag and tail" landform was created during the last ice age when receding glaciers scoured across the land pushing soft soil aside but being split by harder crags of volcanic rock. The hilltop crag was the earliest part of the city to develop, becoming fortified and eventually developing into the current Edinburgh Castle. The rest of the city grew slowly down the tail of land from the Castle Rock. This was an easily defended spot with marshland on the south and a loch, the Nor Loch, on the north. Access up the main road to the settlement was therefore restricted by means of various gates and the city walls, of which only fragmentary sections remain.
Due to the space restrictions imposed by the narrowness of the "tail" the Old Town became home to some of the earliest "high rise" residential buildings. Multi-story dwellings were the norm from the 16th century onwards. During the 18th century the Old Town had a population of about 80,000 residents. In more modern times it had declined dramatically to just 4,000 residents. There are currently approximately 20,000 residents in the various parts of the Old Town. As the population was for a long time reluctant to build outside the defensive wall, the need for housing grew and hence the buildings became higher and higher. Many of these buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1824; the rebuilding of these on the original foundations led to changes in the ground level and the creation of many passages and vaults under the Old Town. The construction of new streets including North Bridge and South Bridge in the 18th century also created underground spaces, such as the Edinburgh Vaults below the latter.
On 7 December 2002, a major fire engulfed part of the Cowgate, a street which runs along a valley parallel to the High Street on its southern side. It destroyed the famous comedy club, The Gilded Balloon, and much of the Informatics Department of the University of Edinburgh, including the comprehensive artificial intelligence library.
- History of Edinburgh
- List of Category A listed buildings in the Old Town, Edinburgh
- Scotland in the High Middle Ages
- Timeline of Edinburgh history
- World Heritage Sites in Scotland
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Edinburgh/Old_Town.|
- "Edinburgh-World Heritage Site". VisitScotland. Retrieved 10 February 2013.