Old Town, Edinburgh

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
The Old Town seen from Princes Street
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Reference 728
UNESCO region Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1995 (19th Session)
Map of the city centre, showing the Old Town (dark brown), New Town (mid brown), and the West End (orange), with the World Heritage Site indicated by the red line

The Old Town (Scots: Auld Toun) is the name popularly given to the oldest part of Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh. The area has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings. Together with the 18th-century New Town, it forms part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.[1]

Royal Mile[edit]

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 both Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey. Narrow closes (alleyways), often no more than a few feet wide, lead steeply downhill to both north and south of the main spine which runs west to east.

Notable buildings in the Old Town include St. Giles' Cathedral, the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland, the Old College of the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament Building. The area has a number of underground vaults and hidden passages that are relics of previous phases of construction.

No part of the street is officially called The Royal Mile in terms of legal addresses. The true street names (running west to east) are Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate.

Street layout[edit]

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 man-made 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.

Sections[edit]

The Old Town is divided into specific sections, over and above the four sections which make up the Royal Mile (see above), namely (from west to east):

  • West Port, the old route out of Edinburgh to the south-west
  • Grassmarket, the area to the south-west
  • St Cuthbert's
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • The Cowgate, the lower southern section of the town
  • The Mound, the area linking Princes Street to the Royal Mile
  • Calton Road, the lower northern section of the town
  • Canongate, a name correctly applied to the whole eastern district
  • Dumbiedykes, an area now mainly of Council housing to the south-east, formerly the site of the deaf and dumb school (though few realise the lack of political correctness in the name)
  • Holyrood, the area containing Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Abbey
  • Croft 'n' Righ, a group of buildings north-east of Holyrood

Residential buildings[edit]

Buildings in the High Street

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 Edinburgh (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.

Traditionally buildings were less dense in the eastern, Canongate, section. This area underwent major slum clearance and reconstruction in the 1950s, thereafter becoming an area largely of Council housing. Further Council housing was built on the southern fringe of the Canongate in the 1960s and 1970s in an area generally called Dumbiedykes. From 1990 to 2010 major new housing schemes appeared throughout the Canongate. These were built to a much higher scale than the traditional buildings and have greatly increased the population of the area.

Major events[edit]

A replica gas lamp in the Old Town

In 1824 a major fire destroyed most of the buildings on the south side of the High Street section between St. Giles Cathedral and the Tron Kirk. (see separate article: Great Fire of Edinburgh (1824))

During the Edinburgh Festival the High Street and Hunter Square become gathering points where performers "on the Fringe" advertise their shows, often through street performances.

On 7 December 2002, a large fire destroyed a small but dense group of old buildings on the Cowgate and South Bridge. 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.[2] The site was redeveloped 2013-2014 with a single new building, largely in hotel use.

Proposed Development[edit]

the Jeffrey Street arches which are due to be redeveloped in 2015

An area directly to the north of the Canongate has been earmarked for a large redevelopment project named Caltongate. The scheme involves building of a mix of residential, hotel, retail and office buildings on the site of the former SMT bus depot in New Street, developing the arches under Jeffrey Street, redeveloping a number of other surrounding sites and creating a pedestrian link from the Royal Mile to Calton Hill.[3] The proposals have been criticised by a number of commentators including the author Alexander McCall Smith and Sheila Gilmore MP who regard the modern design as incompatible with the existing older architectural styles of the Old Town and inappropriate for a UNESCO World Heritage site.[4] The Caltongate development has also been opposed by the Cockburn Association[5] and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland. The site developers Artisan Real Estate Investors have stated that the completed development will be a "vibrant, exciting" place. The plans were approved by the City of Edinburgh Council in January 2014 and construction was due to begin in the summer of 2014.[6]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Edinburgh-World Heritage Site". VisitScotland. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  2. ^ http://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/12/12/fire_guts_edinburghs_ai_library/
  3. ^ "Caltongate masterplan". Frameworks, masterplans and design briefs. City of Edinburgh. Retrieved 30 January 2014. 
  4. ^ "Caltongate development approved by Edinburgh Council". Scotland on Sunday. 29 January 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "The Caltongate Development". Cockburn Association. Retrieved 30 January 2014. 
  6. ^ David McCann (30 January 2014). "Caltongate work to start in summer". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 

Coordinates: 55°56′51.26″N 3°11′29.87″W / 55.9475722°N 3.1916306°W / 55.9475722; -3.1916306