Standing on top of a volcanic rock, Edinburgh Castle dominates the Scottish capital’s skyline.
This most iconic of the country’s landmarks is Scotland’s top paid-for visitor attraction, welcoming more than 1.5 million visitors each year.
The castle’s stone walls have endured many sieges and witnessed many battles. Over centuries of history, its role has ranged from a home to Scottish monarchs to becoming a military headquarters in the 1600s – a presence which has continued to this day.
Key highlights within the castle include St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in the capital, Mons Meg and the Honours of Scotland. During the Second World War, the Crown of Scotland – which forms part of the Honours – was hidden below a medieval latrine closet in David’s Tower to prevent the enemy from finding it.
The castle also shares some perhaps lesser known history such as having one of the earliest known representations of the stars and stripes in the world which was carved by an American prisoner of war. In more recent times it is believed that the Russian secret service demanded the blocking of the ‘laird’s lug’ – a spyhole by the Great Hall fireplace – before a planned visit by future Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.
Other key facts about Edinburgh Castle:
- The Ordnance Survey began life in the Castle in the drawing office of military surveyor William Roy in 1747. His work ultimately led to the setting up of the national mapping organisation.
- Hundreds of supposed witches were burnt at the stake where the Esplanade is today. Among them was Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, accused of attempting to kill King James V using witchcraft in 1537.
- Plans were drawn up in the 1800s to replace the military buildings with a pretty, fairy-tale castle, a French-style chateau and a mock medieval keep. All of the schemes were ultimately abandoned.
- In 1811, 49 French prisoners of war hacked their way through a wall and lowered themselves on ropes down the south crag. All but one escaped. You can still see the hole.
- A Jacobite force came within metres of capturing the castle during the Rising of 1715 but the ladder they brought to scale the ramparts turned out to be too short.
- Over the years the castle’s prisons have held prisoners of war from across the globe. The first were the crew of a French ship captured in 1757. Other nationalities included Spanish, Dutch and Americans.