For many Americans Scottish history and culture includes watching the movie Braveheart or reading Macbeth, the Scottish play that Shakespeare wrote after Elizabeth’s death when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. A visit to the Royal Mile at Edinburgh will provide an immersion in historical Scotland.
The castle at Edinburgh perches on volcanic rock and dominates the city skyline. Evidence exists of human occupation at the Castle Rock from 900 B.C. In ancient times it was called Din Eidyn, “the stronghold of Eidyn,” but when the Angles invaded in 638 A.D. the castle rock area was named Edinburgh and remains so today.
During the medieval period the castle at Edinburgh became the chief royal castle. State records and royal jewels were housed there. Also, St. Margaret’s Chapel was constructed in the twelfth century.
In 1566 Mary, Queen of Scots, delivered James VI in a tiny room in the palace of the castle. Once he became James I of England the royal Scottish court moved to London, and the castle became more of fortress and prison.
The Dungeons and Cannon at Edinburgh Castle
Visitors touring the castle can admire royal jewels and the medieval swords. They are allowed to explore both the dungeons and a military prison that once even housed prisoners from the American Revolutionary War.
Each day since June 7, 1861, a gun is fired at the castle at exactly one o’clock. An account of the first firing said “it frightened the citizens and scattered the flocks of pigeons roosting on the city’s buildings.” The firing of the cannon attracts both locals and tourists. Visitors might see local schoolchildren on a field trip or people from around the world.
Historic Scotland Agency
The Edinburgh Castle is operated by Historic Scotland, an agency of the Scottish government. An exploration of their website provides interesting historical facts about the castle including the following, which shows the recent emphasis on Scottish nationalism: “In 1996 the Stone of Destiny, Scotland’s coronation stone, was placed in the Crown Room alongside the nation’s Crown Jewels (the Honours of Scotland), following its return from Westminster after a space of 800 years.”
Holyrood Palace, Park, and Abbey
At the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the castle, visitors can tour Holyrood Palace, and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey with its classic medieval architecture. Holyrood Park, the queen’s backyard, has a profusion of flowers and a path for tourists to walk and enjoy. Queen Elizabeth II spends a week at Holyrood each summer. When she or other Royal Family members are not in residence, the palace is open to the public.
No visit to Edinburgh is complete without an exploration of the Royal Mile area located high on a volcanic rock east of the city center.