The history of Edinburgh Castle

Sitting proudly atop of Castle Rock (a 700-million-year-old extinct volcano), Edinburgh Castle is one of the most iconic battlements on Earth and Scotland’s second most visited tourist attraction.

Once the site of a fortification known as the ‘Castle of the Maidens’, the edifice that now stands on Castle Rock was constructed in the 12th century by David I, Prince of the Cumbrians and later King of the Scots from 1124–1153.

At over 131 metres above sea level and featuring looming sheer walls, the castle could not be stormed from any direction save the east. Yet despite posing a formidable obstacle to anyone wishing to take it, opponents knew that control of the castle meant control of the city.

Beyond the walls

From cannons to crown jewels, Edinburgh Castle is home to much of Scotland’s history

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Witness to numerous bloody encounters, the first major battle fought at Edinburgh Castle unfolded in 1296 following King Edward I of England’s invasion of Scotland in March of that year, an incursion that sparked the First War of Scottish Independence. Following a three-day bombardment, the garrison inside the castle surrendered, but England’s hold upon this strategically vital position would be anything but consistent in the centuries to follow.

Following the Scottish Wars for Independence, King David II, son of the fearsome warrior Robert the Bruce, had to contend with the damage inflicted upon Edinburgh Castle during the conflict. Eager to repair the broken fortress, King David oversaw a period of restoration that included the initial work to construct David’s Tower, which was later replaced by the Half Moon Battery.

In the succeeding years Edinburgh Castle would witness further attempts by both the English and the Scots to wrest control of the castle and suffer the damage that such brutal clashes often caused.

Predominantly used to house prisoners of war captured during England’s many foreign campaigns in the 18th and 19th centuries, the castle became a national monument in 1814. With over 1 million visitors a year, today Edinburgh Castle is a crucial part of the city’s £1.6 billion tourist industry.

Cover image by waldomiguez

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