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Edinburgh Overview

Edinburgh (pronounced Důn Čideann in Scottish Gaelic, is a major and historic city on the east coast of Scotland on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, and in the unitary local authority of City of Edinburgh. It has been the capital of Scotland since 1437 and is the seat of the country's home rule government. The city was one of the major centres of the enlightenment led by the University of Edinburgh. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. In the census of 2001 Edinburgh had a total resident population of 448,624.

Edinburgh is well known for the annual Edinburgh Festival, the largest performing arts festival in the world, and for the Hogmanay street party. At the time of the art festivals the population of the city doubles. The city is one of the world's major tourist destinations, 13 million visitors a year roughly.

Origins of "Edinburgh"

The origin of the city's name is understood to come from the Brythonic Din Eidyn (Fort of Eidyn) from the time when it was a Gododdin hillfort, perhaps, as David Nash Ford suggests, when it was the home of the mid-6th century King Clinog Eitin whose epithet records the place name. After it was besieged by the Bernician Angles the name changed to Edin-burh, which some have argued derives from the Anglo-Saxon for Edwin's fort, possibly derived from the 7th century Northumbrian king Edwin. However, since the name apparently predates King Edwin, this is highly unlikely.

The first evidence of the existence of the town existing as a separate entity from the fort lies in an early 12th century charter, generally thought to date from 1124, by King David I granting land to the Church of the Holy Rood of Edinburgh. This suggests that the town came into official existence between 1018 (when King Malcolm II secured the Lothians from the Northumbrians) and 1124.

The charter refers to the recipients (in Latin) as "Ecclisie Sancte Crucis Edwinesburgensi". This could mean that those who drafted the charter believed Edwin to be the original source of the name and decided to derive the latinisation from what they believed to be the ancient name. It could also mean that at some point in the preceding 600 years the name had altered to include a "w". If the latter scenario was the case then it was soon to change; by the 1170s King William the Lion was using the name "Edenesburch" in a charter (again in Latin) confirming the 1124 grant of David I.

Documents from the 14th Century show the name to have settled into its current form; although other spellings ("Edynburgh" and "Edynburghe") appear, these are simply spelling variants of the current name.

The Centre

The historic centre of Edinburgh is divided into two by the broad green swath of Princes Street Gardens. To the south the view is dominated by Edinburgh Castle, perched atop an extinct volcanic crag, and the long sweep of the Old Town trailing after it along the ridge. To the north lies Princes Street and the New Town. The gardens were begun in 1816 on marsh land which had once been a loch, the Nor' Loch.

Some 70 million years ago several volcanic vents in the area cooled and solidified to form tough basalt volcanic plugs, then later a glacier swept from west to east, exposing rocky crags to the west and leaving a tail of material swept to the east. At the castle rock this tail formed a narrow steep sided ridge, declining in height over a mile till it meets general ground level at Holyrood. At the same time, the glacier gouged out ground to each side, leaving the ravine of the Grassmarket and Cowgate to the south, and the swampy valley of the Nor' Loch to the north.

This formed a natural fortress, and recent excavations at the castle (described in Excavations within Edinburgh Castle by Stephen T. Driscoll & Peter Yeoman, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph Series no.12 1997) found material dating back to the Late Bronze Age, as long ago as 850 BC.

In the 1st century the Romans recorded the Votadini as a British tribe in the area, and about 600 the poem Y Gododdin using the Brythonic form of that name describes warriors feasting in Eidin's great hall. The map co-ordinates of the centre of Edinburgh are approximately 55°57' N 3°11' W