Harry Potter in Edinburgh - A Muggle's Guide to the Inspirations for JK Rowling's Wizarding World
I don't offer Harry Potter tours of Edinburgh. Plenty of other people do. I've never even read the books or seen the films, but as my focus on Edinburgh history must also include the influence the city had on JK Rowling (who still lives in Edinburgh) I offer this brief introduction to some of the sites in the city that Potterheads may like to seek out.
As the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, Harry Potter is just one of the literary influences with connections to Edinburgh.
Just don't ask me for a Harry Potter tour as refusal often offends...!
There are four big private schools in the city, and if you stacked their buildings on top of each other, you'd probably end up with a reasonable template for what became the Hogwarts Academy in the Harry Potter books.
The most central of the schools, which a lot of visitors seek out, is George Heriot's, which can be seen on Lauriston Place or from Greyfriars Kirkyard.
This school - established as a hospital in the 1620s - not only has a Hogwarts style, it also features four houses named for various figures from Edinburgh's history, similar to the four houses of Hogwarts School.
TOM RIDDLE'S GRAVE
Actually the family grave of a man called Thomas Riddell, but why let a little misspelling get in the way of cultural exploitation...!
Along with some of the other inspirations for characters in the Harry Potter universe, Riddell's grave can be found in Greyfriar's Kirkyard - look for the muddy track, worn away by the thousands of people who trek to find it.
I can't help but wonder what Riddell and his family would make of people leaving tributes to a fictional character at their graveside.
Perhaps an inspiration for the eponymous hero of the stories, Potterrow was originally the street where Edinburgh's potteries were based, just beyond the city walls (where it was safe to have industrial premises, with the risk of fire spreading). Today the Potterrow area is heavily linked to the University of Edinburgh, which has some of its main student buildings in the city centre clustered around the area.
Another historical figure whose name was co-opted by JK Rowling, McGonagall is widely considered the world's worst poet. He famously walked to Balmoral in the Scottish Highlands, to present Queen Victoria with a poem he had written for her, only to be told the queen wouldn't see him and he should walk home again. Which he did.
Born in Dundee (where the subject of one of his best known poems, the Tay Bridge disaster, also took place) McGonagall's work remains in print, as terrible as it is. Alas he never got to enjoy the reputation he gained, and he died in poverty as an alcoholic in his rooms above the Captain's Bar on South College Street (where a plaque commemorates his death), and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Greyfriars Kirkyard. A small memorial stone for him can be found near the gateway to George Heriot's School.
This historic building on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile was formerly home to the Moray family, and today houses the Univerity of Edinburgh's teaching school. It was here that JK Rowling trained as a primary school teacher, before writing the books and saving herself the hassle of actually teaching kids.
This unremarkable-looking row of tenement houses is where JK Rowling lived when she was writing some of the early Harry Potter books. There's no formal marker of the property she lived in, but it's to the west of the city centre, towards Fountainbridge.
THE EDINBURGH AWARD
An award given annually to a local figure who has helped to boost Edinburgh's profile on the international stage, JK Rowling was given the Edinburgh Award in 2008.
You can find the gilded handprints of Rowling and other winners, including fellow writer Ian Rankin, physicist Peter Higgs, and sportsman Chris Hoy, just off the Royal Mile outside the City Chambers near St Giles' Cathedral.
THE ELEPHANT HOUSE
Self-proclaimed 'birthplace' of Harry Potter, this cafe on George IV Bridge has become a mecca for Potterheads, and you often have to step into the road to get around the crowd that gathers outside the cafe to take photographs. The cafe charges £1 for visitors to take photographs inside, assuming you aren't buying coffee or cake.
JK Rowling has endorsed a different cafe - nearby Spoon, formerly Nicolson's - as being where she spent more time scribbling the early drafts of the stories.
Friends who know such things tell me that Diagon Alley is a wizard's market (ie. not a real thing) in the Harry Potter books - and that Victoria Street in Edinburgh's Old Town was the inspiration for it.
Candlemaker Row and Cockburn Street also claim the influence, and Victoria Street is far from the only place where you'll find Harry Potter shops taking your money for branded plastic goods - but it is one of the more colourful streets of the Old Town (and quite interesting in terms of its real history too - check out the story of the Wizard of the West Bow...!).
Explore more of Edinburgh's other literary and cultural history with my private city walking tours!
One of the great appeals of Edinburgh's city centre is its wealth of architectural heritage. From modern wonders such as the new Scottish Parliament building, to the original high-rise structures of the Old Town, the city's shape and style varies almost from street to street.
One of the most important figures in the city's architectural history is Robert Adam, born in Kirkcaldy on 3 July 1728, to a family of designers and architects - along with his father William and brothers John and James, the Adam family would collectively produce some of the most important buildings in the UK during the eighteenth century.
Adam is best known in Edinburgh for his New Town houses, creating a visual style replicated throughout the New Town as it grew and developed, but there are structures designed by Adam right across Edinburgh.
Here are some highlights for visitors to explore...
In 1788 the University of Edinburgh planned to replace some of its older, dilapidated school buildings with a new purpose-built structure, that would better reflect its status and ambition as a university. Robert Adam was commissioned to produce an impressive double quadrangle structure to be built on a site adjacent to what was then the new South Bridge in the Old Town, and he duly produced plans for the 'New College' building.
Construction came to a halt as funding dried up, and in 1792 Adam died. Work only recommenced in 1815, when Adam's plans were passed to William Playfair, who modified the grand scheme Adam had imagined to create just one single courtyard, and was virtually completed by the early 1830s. It was only in the 1880s that the grand dome above the eastern entrance was added.
Today the building - now known as Old College, after the 1840s development of a newer New College - houses the university's law school and associated administrative offices, as well as the Talbot Rice Gallery.
The buildings around this exclusive and high-status housing area were designed by Robert Adam and Robert Reid. Collectively they are considered some of the finest surviving Georgian architecture anywhere in Europe, and the range of buildings on the northern side of the square are the most visibly interesting.
Number six Charlotte Square is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, and is adjacent to the Georgian House museum, a period recreation of what these extraordinary buildings would have been like as residential properties.
North Bridge was the construction built to provide access between the Old and New Towns in the 1760s, and where the bridge joined to Princes Street Adam built a substantial building that acted as a grand example of the style that New Town would become recognised for.
Register House was built as a records office to house the national archive and records of Scotland, and Adam worked on the buildings jointly with his brother James. The building was paid for with £12,000 recovered from accounts of Highland estates owned by those who had been involved in the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
After five years of construction, building work came to a halt, and the structure was left unfinished for nearly a decade until Adam modified the plans to finally have it finished in 1788.
The building continues to function as a public records office today.
DAVID HUME MAUSOLEUM
As well as grand houses and civic buildings, Adam also designed a number of monuments and memorials in Edinburgh, including the grave of his own father, in Greyfriars Kirkyard in the Old Town.
Most notable is the circular mausoleum to the philosopher David Hume, who died in 1776. Adam had been a friend of Hume's, and was commissioned after Hume's death to produce the mausoleum to house his grave.
Hume's grave stands in the Old Calton burial ground - a non-denominational graveyard for a man who was noted as an atheist in the eighteenth century.
ROYAL COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS
Built originally as a private residence for Baron Ord, this property on Queen Street in the New Town today houses the Royal College of Physicians, and is replete with stone decorations of a staff surrounded by a curled serpent, a motif widely recognised as an emblem of the medical profession.
Other Robert Adam buildings in the city have been lost or destroyed, including the Bridewell Prison which stood on the site of St Andrew's House on the side of Calton Hill today (part of the original prison walls do survive) but many other major works by Adam survive around the rest of the UK. After his death Adam was buried at Westminster Abbey in London.
But his vision was one which influenced Edinburgh majorly during its development in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, and he remains a significant figure in the city's history.
Explore more of Adam's architectural gems with my private Edinburgh walking tours!
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