10 April 2011

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh castle is at the very center of the city. Allow a good few hours to see the castle - it's that big. It is built on top of a long dormant volcano, so it gives an even more imposing presence. The buildings now standing were largely erected in the 13th century, but there are references to the occupation of Castle Rock from the mid-2nd century by Ptolemy, no less. Now, the oldest standing building is St. Margaret's Chapel, which was built in the early 12th century. In the 16th century, the castle was largely destroyed during the Lang Siege. To this day, there is still a military presence at the castle.

There is a longheld superstition at the University of Edinburgh that it's bad luck to visit the castle before you graduate. I'm really hoping that's not true. I've been at least 8 times.

St. Margaret's Chapel
This is the oldest standing building in Edinburgh. Built by David I during the beginning of the 12th century, it was erected in memory of his mother, Margaret. Margaret died in 1093 at Edinburgh Castle, just days after learning of her husband's death in battle. Cause of death went down as a broken heart. She was known throughout the country for her strict religious devotion and daily charitable work. Queen Margaret was canonized a saint by the Catholic Church in 1250. Additionally, she was mother to three future kings of Scotland - Edgar, Alexander I, and David I. St. Margaret's Chapel is still an operating chapel today. It is tiny - just 10' by 16'. You can still get married there or have your child baptized. Just make sure you only invite about 20 guests.

1 O'Clock Gun
After visiting St. Margaret's Chapel, stick around that area to grab a spot along the castle walls. From here are the best views to watch the 1 O'Clock Gun. The gun goes off without fail, except for on Sundays, Christmas day, and Easter.

Mons Meg
Mons Meg is one of Scotland's more hilarious investments. A gift to King James II of Scotland in 1457, it weighs over 6 tons. Each cannonball weighs 330 pounds and can be shot almost 2 miles. In battle, it would take like a day to drag Mons Meg just a mile. Because it's so heavy it can never be used in battle, so it's basically just ceremonial. It was even fired to celebrate the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mons Meg provides wonderful opportunities for some great tourist pictures.
Great Hall
Every castle needs a great hall. It is always the center of state, where important political functions are held and company is entertained. The Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle is particularly interesting, because it was converted by Oliver Cromwell into living quarters for his troops. It remained that way until the 18th century, when it was then converted into a military hospital. It then underwent massive restorations to become the again-impressive hall. Today, make sure you stop in to catch a historical reinactor. You might be lucky and catch a presentation on torture.

Royal Palace
The Royal Palace holds the royal apartments, and it was primarily used by the Stewart monarchs. In fact, James VI of Scotland, later to become James I of England, was born here. The most interesting part of the Royal Palace, however, are the Honours of Scotland andStone of Scone (Stone of Destiny).  The Honours of Scotland consist of the crown, the sceptre, and sword of state. The Honours actually have a great story - During Oliver Cromwell's reign, he ordered that all of the crown jewels were destroyed. Legend has it that as a castle holding the crown jewels of Scotland was surrounded by Cromwell's soldiers, two women snuck out the Honours in their skirts and a bundle of kindling. They were then buried to ensure their safety. At some point after Cromwell's reign ended, they were dug up and locked away in Edinburgh Castle. They lay there forgotten until they were rediscovered by Sir Walter Scott on February 4, 1818. From then on, the have been on display in Edinburgh Castle - except for during WWII. They were hidden again amidst fears that they would be lost during a German invasion.

This now brings me to The Stone of Scone. This large slab of stone is where for centuries Scottish kings sat for their coronation. In 1293 the Stone of Scone was taken from Scotland by  Edward I of England. During the Scottish Wars of Independence, Edward seized the stone as a mark of his victory. He then took the stone to Westminster, where it remained until it was returned to Scotland in 1996. Today it is known as the Coronation Stone, and it is embedded in the coronation chair at Westminster. When Elizabeth II was crowned, she indeed sat upon the Stone of Scone. When the next king or queen of England is crowned, the Stone will be returned temporarily to Westminster for the coronation. There are a lot of stories surrounding the Stone of Scone, the most infamous of which is when a group of students stole the Stone. On Christmas day in 1950, four Scottish students stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster. When the students were removing the Stone, they discovered that it was broken in two. Thus, two separate caravans were made back to Scotland, each responsible for one half of the stone. They ultimately left the Stone on the alter of Arbroath Abbey on April 11, 1951. Apparently the students assumed that the Stone would remain with the Church of Scotland, but it was ultimately returned again to Westminster by authorities. There are Scottish conspiracy theorists that maintain that the Stone returned to Westminster is not the real Stone, but a replica. Who knows -- the real Stone of Scone could be buried somewhere deep in the Highlands.
Can be roughly translated to "Don't mess with Scotland."
View from the castle's wall.
Obligatory picture down the barrel of a cannon. Absolute must.
The castle from within its grounds.
Mom, this one's for you.

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