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Perched high above Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress that’s occupied Castle Rock since the 12th century. It’s had a long and colorful history throughout the centuries.
Currently the castle is the most popular paid attraction in Scotland. More than 1.5 million visitors pass through the castle gates each year. Additionally, the castle hosts the annual Military Tattoo, which takes place in the esplanade every August.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Edinburgh Castle twice. There is always something new to learn about this imposing fortress.
Check out these ten facts you many not know about Edinburgh Castle.
Most Besieged Place in Europe
Edinburgh Castle squared off against hostile forces a remarkable 23 times!
Notable sieges include the Longshanks Siege of 1296 when Edward I plundered the castle and sent its treasures to London. And during the Lang Siege, a government resistance from 1571 – 73, the castle declared its support for Mary Queen of Scots.
The last siege occurred during the Jacobite Rising in 1745, when Bonny Prince Charlie tried to take the fortress. He failed.
Sits Atop a Volcano
The volcanic explosion that created Castle Rock occurred millions of years ago. Archaeological evidence shows that humans settled on the rock around 850 BC.
Builders constructed the castle in the 12th century, over the plug of the volcano’s vent.
The Castle is Haunted
It’s no surprise that this ancient structure claims to house a few ghosts. After all, the city of Edinburgh is considered one of the most haunted places in the world.
When tunnels were discovered beneath the castle and the Royal Mile, a young piper entered the passages, playing his bagpipes as he walked. Above ground, people tracked his progress by following the sound of the pipes. Suddenly, the pipes fell silent about half way down the Mile. Rescuers searched the tunnels but never found the piper. Today the faint sound of his bagpipes occasionally echoes through the tunnels beneath the castle and the Royal Mile.
In the castle dungeons, watch for the headless drummer boy who haunts that area. Other mysterious occurrences include misty figures that appear, sudden drops in temperature and invisible hands that tug at clothing and hair.
Oldest Building in Scotland
Due to battles in and around the castle, most sections have been destroyed and rebuilt. However, St Margaret’s Chapel remains intact, making it the oldest building in the country.
Queen Margaret married Scottish King Malcolm III around 1070. She was considered a good woman who cared about others. When Malcolm died in battle, Margaret died of a broken heart, a few days later. Their son, David I, built the chapel to honor his mother.
When Robert the Bruce captured the castle in 1314, it’s the only structure he spared.
The Castle Grounds Contain a Dog Cemetery
Tucked into a garden, visible from the Argyle Battery, is a canine cemetery. This small patch of ground is dedicated to the dogs of the Scottish battalions. There lies Jess, the mascot of the Black Watch 42nd Highlanders and Dobbler, who accompanied the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from Sri Lanka to South Africa.
The dogs buried here are honored for their loyalty and service. Visitors cannot enter the cemetery however it can be viewed from above.
Time Keeping Gun
Since 1861, a gun fired from the castle grounds allowed sailors passing by in the Firth of Forth to adjust their chronometers to the correct time. Indeed, the whole city could set their clocks and watches by the castle gun.
Although no longer needed today by sailors, the ritual is now a tradition. The gun is fired daily at 1:00 pm, much to the delight of visitors.
An Elephant Once Lived at the Castle
In 1838, the 78th Highlanders returned to Edinburgh with an elephant. The elephant lived in the castle stables while his comrades lived in the barracks. He marched at the head of the band in regimental parades and developed a fondness for beer.
It’s told that the elephant reached into the canteen each night, for a beer before retiring. The memorial to the 78th Highlanders, on display in the esplanade, features an elephant carved into a stone at the foot of a Celtic cross.
The Scottish Crown Jewels Were Hidden Too Well in the Castle
Known as the Honours of Scotland, the Crown, the Sceptre and the Sword of State were used in Scottish coronations. However, after Scotland and England united under one crown in 1707, the Honours were locked into a chest for safe keeping and hidden away in the castle.
A hundred years passed and the location of the crown jewels was forgotten.
A party of searchers, that included Sir Walter Scott, found the chest in 1818. The Honours are on display again, in a protected room in the castle.
University of Edinburgh Students Will Not Enter the Gates
There’s a story told down through the years that if a University of Edinburgh student enters the castle gates, he or she will fail their final exam.
While it’s just a legend, many students are unwilling to visit the castle while studying at the university. They prefer to wait until they graduate!
The Castle Dungeons Held Many Prisoners of War
Edinburgh Castle dungeons housed at least 1,000 prisoners in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Prisoners from the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars all occupied the dungeons.
Interestingly, 21 pirates of the Caribbean were found guilty of piracy and held there while awaiting execution. They were hung off the coast of Leith.
Visit Edinburgh Castle
I enjoyed both of my visits to the castle. As one with Scottish DNA, it is a moving experience for me. There’s so much history and many stories to absorb while wandering that large complex.
The castle is open again and welcoming visitors from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. Tickets MUST be purchased in advance through their website.
You can explore the grounds on your own or join a guide for an in depth tour. There’s a wonderful tea house on the grounds along with a cafe.
Any trip to Edinburgh, for those new to the city, should include a stop at Edinburgh Castle. Located at the top of the Royal Mile, the castle is impossible to miss. In fact, one of the things that I love about Edinburgh is stopping occasionally as I wander to orient myself by locating the castle. It’s a symbol of the city and therefore, significant to me.
Have you been to Edinburgh Castle? Did you learn something new about that fortress?
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