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The Mini Rough Guide to Edinburgh by Donald…

The Mini Rough Guide to Edinburgh

by Donald Reid

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Perched on a series of extinct volcanoes and rocky crags, EDINBURGH enjoys a dramatic natural setting unrivalled by any other major European city. Arrive in the very heart of town - either by day, with an east wind tugging at the flags that seem to fly from every building, or by night, when floodlights float grand architecture above the streets - and you're at once gripped by Edinburgh's romantic historical essence, where ramparts and ridges, turrets and tenements crowd the eye. One native author of genius, Robert Louis Stevenson, declared that "No situation could be more commanding for the head of a kingdom; none better chosen for noble prospects".

In its layout and, many would argue, in its personality too, Edinburgh is divided into its Old Town and New Town, inscribed together on UNESCO's World Heritage List. The former, perched on the spinal ridge leading down from the majestic cliff-girt Castle, is often dark and mysterious, and still predominantly medieval; the latter, with its graceful Georgian terraces and Grecian architecture, is a planning masterpiece of the Age of Enlightenment, when Edinburgh was Europe's hotbed of intellectual endeavour. The Old Town swirls with gory tales of body-snatchers - crowded with Gothic detailing, its looming medieval housing and historic facades lend a very distinctive appearance and atmosphere - while the New Town, with its douce lawyers and canny bankers, captures the capital's deeply dyed respectability. Being a relatively small city, with a population of under half a million, there are also marked contrasts between the closely packed grandness of Edinburgh's centre and the grim, underprivileged housing estates of the outskirts, as portrayed on the big screen in Trainspotting - rarely seen by visitors, but still very much part of the modern city.

A royal capital from its earliest days, Edinburgh's status took a knock when James VI of Scotland left the city for London in 1603 to take up the British throne as James I. Just over a hundred years later, the Scottish parliament also disappeared as Westminster assumed control, and while Edinburgh never lost the style, appearance and trappings of a capital city, its self-importance rang hollow for many. However, the return of the Scottish Parliament to Edinburgh in 1999, after nearly three hundred years of rule from London, has lent renewed vigour to the political, commercial and cultural scenes, and Edinburgh is taking the opportunity to prove itself a dynamic, influential and thoroughly modern European capital. The recent opening of the new National Museum of Scotland, the redevelopment of Leith docklands, the rapid erection of new homes and offices in various parts of the city and the anticipated appearance of the architecturally ambitious Scottish Parliament building, due to be unveiled in 2003, are all contributing to this upturn in the city's vitality and spirit.

Above all, Edinburgh is a cultured capital, in part due to its rich literary and artistic connections, but also thanks to the unique creative outpouring of the Edinburgh Festival, the largest celebration of the arts in the world. The event draws around a million visitors to the city each August, and generates a carnival atmosphere matched only by the much shorter but even more boisterous celebrations at Hogmanay. Edinburgh also maintains a vibrant cultural life throughout the year, with innovative theatre, energetic clubs, live music and heavyweight literary and artistic events. The social life of the city has been equally enlivened in recent years: a number of stylish new Modern Scottish restaurants, which use traditional local produce such as venison and salmon to create innovative new dishes, have begun to earn Edinburgh recognition on the culinary map. Long known as a great drinking city thanks both to its brewing and distilling traditions and its distinctive howffs (old! pubs), Edinburgh now boasts a host of stylish bars and a thriving café culture, fuelled mainly by the presence of three universities, plus several colleges.
  antimuzak | Apr 18, 2006 |
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