Sunday, April 01, 2007

February 2007 - Edinburgh, Scotland - So Many Castles

The lion symbol of Scotland shown below is proudly displayed on all Castles in Scotland.
During our time in Edinburgh, we visited 2 different castles - one a beautiful Renaissance-era palace currently used as the official residence of the Royal family in Scotland and the other a creepy, dark, stone castle dating back to the Dark Ages last used by Mary Queen of Scots and her family . James IV built the Palace of Holyrood House in the 16th century adjacent to an Augustinian abbey that David I had established in the 12th century. The nave of the abbey church, now in ruins, still stands, but only the north tower of James's palace remains. What you see today was mostly built by Charles II. One wing, however, was the scene of Holyroodhouse's most dramatic incident. Mary Queen of Scots's Italian secretary, David Rizzio, was stabbed repeatedly by her jealous husband, Lord Darnley, and his accomplices.
Here's Kenny in front of the main entrance of the Palace.

And here's the older wing and courtyard of the Palace. This is the tower inhabited by Mary Queen of Scots before she was imprisoned and later beheaded by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.
These are the ruins of the 12th century Agustinian abbey. From here you can see one side of the nave and the wall behind the altar which contained a large stained glass window.

From the courtyard at the front of the Palace we could see Holyrood Park, Edinburgh's largest. With rocky crags, a loch, sweeping meadows, and the ruins of a chapel, it's a bit of Scottish countryside in the city. At the top of the Park, which is 823-ft. high, is Arthur's Seat, visible in the background of this picture. The name doesn't refer to King Arthur, as many people assume, but perhaps is a reference to Prince Arthur of Strathclyde or a corruption of Ard Thor, Gaelic for "height of Thor."

By far our favorite site in Edinburgh is Edinburgh castle. This massive stone castle, sitting atop a mound of stone created by receding glaciers in the center of the city, a few blocks from our apartment, can be seen from anywhere in the city. As can be imagined, the Castle's fortified position was used by many Scottish rulers to keep power over Edinburgh and fight off enemies and constant attacks by the English.

We loved this Castle because it is filled with so much lore. The very early history is somewhat vague, but in the 11th century, Malcolm III (Canmore) and his Saxon queen, later venerated as St. Margaret, founded a castle on this spot. The only fragment left of their original pile -- in fact, the oldest structure in Edinburgh -- is St. Margaret's Chapel, built in the Norman style, the oblong structure dating principally from the 12th century (shown below).

After centuries of destruction, demolitions, and upheavals, the buildings that stand today are basically those that resulted from the castle's role as a military garrison in the past 300 years or so. And much of the displays are devoted to military history.
Scottish Parliaments used to convene in this Great Hall and now is serves as a museum of antique weapons (particularly those used for swordsmanship).
The castle vaults served as prisons for foreign soldiers in the 18th century, and these great storerooms housed hundreds of Napoleonic soldiers in the early 19th century. Some prisoners made wall carvings still seen today. Among the batteries of armaments that protected the castle is the medieval siege cannon, known as Mons Meg, which weighs more than 5 tons (shown above). The tower and stone building behind us is the place where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland (later James I of England). Her son took the throne from her as she was forced to abdicate her right to be Queen. Another highlight is the Scottish Crown Jewels, used at the coronations, along with the scepter and sword of state of Scotland and the infamous Stone of Scone all of which are now stored in this building.

We also enjoyed the square in front of the Castle which provides panoramic views of Edinburgh and views of the Gothic architecture of the Old Town (featured in our next blog entry).

This is a view of the Edinburgh Castle from the Princes Street Gardens located in a valley created by the draining of the loch used as a moat that once surrounded the Castle. The loch was used for drowning witches. A woman suspected of being a witch had her hands and feet bound and was tossed into the water. If she floated, she was burned at the stake for being a witch and if she sank and drowned, then the government would apologize for their mistake. The loch was also used for draining the city's sewage. Thus, it became a cess pool which was drained and replaced with these Gardens which have amazingly fertile soil.
Here are some pictures of the Castle from Princes Street Gardens at sunset.

Gravedigging was a common way to make a living in medieval Edinburgh. Bodies were uncovered not only for their jewelry but also for use as cadavers for medical research. Medical schools and mad scientists bought cadavers from gravediggers so they could perform autopsies and dissections (strictly prohibited by the Catholic Church). Now cemetaries are open to the public like parks. So we decided to take a nighttime stroll through this cemetary at the base of the Castle. It was as spooky as it looks.
There is the Castle all lit up in the distance.
Can you spot Casandra? She looks like another gravestone.
There is no shortage of castles in Scotland. Here is another one visible from most of the city, sitting atop Calton Hill.
Here is a sunset view of Calton Hill from North Bridge leading from Old Town to New Town.

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