A Brief History of Edinburgh

Jan 15, 2018

Nestling amongst the foothills of a cluster of extinct volcanoes, Scotland’s capital Edinburgh has a long history that can be traced back thousands of years.

Once no more than a few scant streets trailing out of the mighty fort atop Castle Rock, Ediburgh has been Scotland’s chief city since 1437, though evidence of human habitation dates back to the Mesolithic era.

Celtic tribes were the first occupants of the area, settling in the hills around Arthur’s Seat and the Castle Rock. These extinct volcanoes were originally formed by the slow movement and erosion of passing glaciers.

The would-be Scottish capital, in a more recognisable guise, is thought to have begun inside the walls of a small hillfort. Built by the Goddodin, descendants of the Brittonic tribes that had once fought the Romans, a small settlement began to crop up around the city walls.

Castle Rock, Edinburgh,

Early settlers farmed the rich pickings on the oyster and mussel beds of the nearby Firth of Forth and tended small crop plantations on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat.

The Goddodin fort went by the name of “Dun Eiden”, meaning “fort on the hill slope”, and from here Edinburgh was to be born.

In the year 638, the fort was captured by invading Angles from the South, ancestors of the lands that would eventually become England. Capturing dun Eiden, the Angles changed the name of this fortified mound to “Eiden Burh”.

Edinburgh’s history remained turbulent in the following centuries, changing hands between the Scottish and English as war after war ravaged the British Isles.

Edinburgh remained rather small for a capital city during this time, its expansion curtailed by the original town walls. Rather than expand beyond these fortifications, overpopulation in the city was combated by expanding vertically.

Houses were built upon with an ever-increasing number of floors. Heralded as primitive skyscrapers in their earliest form, these towering residential buildings often exceeded seven floors in height and loomed over the twisting, winding alleyways of the city centre.

The Treaty of Union in 1706 united the warring nations of England and Scotland under the unified kingdom of Great Britain.

With this came great expansion for Edinburgh, the city boomed as a centre for banking and financial affairs yet it remained one of the newly unified country’s most overpopulated and poorest cities.

The city of Edinburgh has a fascinating history.

To combat the growth, ambitious plans were put forward at the turn of the century to build an entirely new town. At the time the most daring city project in Europe, work began in 1767 and took near 100 years to complete.

Edinburgh’s New Town was built in neo-classical and Georgian style, and stemmed out from the base of Edinburgh’s mighty Castle, running along the central Princes Street.

Mass migration occurred across the Scottish capital as many residents left the crowded high-rise tenement blocks of Old Town in favour of swanky, singular homes in New Town. Nevertheless, Edinburgh enjoyed a prosperity boom, becoming a European centre for education and intellectualism, earning a nickname as the “Athens of the North”.

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Edinburgh remained small, as far as capital cities go, being surpassed in size by more industrious Scottish neighbours like Glasgow.

Though industrialisation skipped Edinburgh by, the city swelled with incoming retail and commercial properties. The main thoroughfares of Princes Street and George Street became hotbeds of shopping and revelry.


Edinburgh emerged relatively unscathed from the bombing raids of the First and Second World Wars, in part owing to its lack of industry.

In the more modern era, Edinburgh’s position as a financial centre has only strengthened and the city remains the largest financial and administrative centre in the nation after London.

Tourism, and in particular, the string of cultural festivals that mark the calendar year, draw millions of visitors to the city.

From the New Year’s celebrations of Hogmanay to the creative festivities on show at Fringe, Edinburgh has become one of Europe’s leading cultural bastions and enters a new era of importance.

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