It's that time of year again! Every summer, Edinburgh's historic city centre becomes transformed into the world's largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Actually, what is commonly referred to as 'the Edinburgh Festival' is really a collection of festivals, staged all year round, with the summer being the time when a number of them coincide and overlap, creating almost a single festival experience.
But for those who haven't experienced the festival before, or have no idea what to expect from Edinburgh during August, here's my brief history of, and introduction to, Edinburgh's festivals...
The first festival was staged in 1947, when arts companies from around the world were invited to stage a celebratory series of performances to mark the newly won peace across Europe, following the Second World War.
That original festival continues today, in its 70th year, as the Edinburgh International Festival, a roster of theatre, opera, dance and music from around the globe, all carefully curated to an annual theme, and staged in some of the larger venues around the city.
In 1947, a handful of theatre companies who weren't invited to perform at the first festival came to the city anyway, and staged their work in small church halls and community centres. The next year, the number of 'uninvited' companies grew, and eventually the gathering of non-curated theatre companies coalesced into what is today the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
(One of the many frustrations I experience during the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the number of people - and promoters and journalists and theatre companies - who describe it as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Something by that name would no doubt draw barbers and hair stylists from all around the world (and some theatre festivals are indeed branded as Fringe Festivals).
But the Edinburgh Fringe grew up as a distinct entity to the original Edinburgh Festival and, as such, became something which took place outside of, on the edge of, separate from, the Festival itself. Hence, the Festival Fringe!
And, as a point of grammar, it is not possible to be IN the Fringe, merely ON it or AT it. If you take that original notion of 'fringe' as being 'on the edge', then the notion of being IN the edge makes no sense whatsoever.)
Today, also in its 70th year, the Edinburgh Fringe is, by itself, the world's largest arts festival, with around 3,500 performances taking place across the city every single day. If you aren't prepared for what that looks, sounds and feels like, then you're in for a treat!
Around 350 venues are set up around the city, some purpose built, others transformed from rooms and halls that may otherwise be unused throughout the year, and you can find everything from circus and burlesque to stand up comedy, dance, and high drama, from international companies and student troupes, experienced figures from the world of entertainment to new performers just starting out their careers.
As in 1947, the Fringe is uncurated, meaning it's open to anyone and everyone to come and take part. The quality of work can vary wildly, but that is all part of the excitement and interest!
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo was originally staged by the British Army as their contribution to the Edinburgh Festival in 1949. The first performances were at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, but today takes place in the large stadium built at the front of Edinburgh Castle.
It's a massive spectacle of military bands from all around the world, with lights and images projected on the castle itself, and concluding with a huge firework finale. The Tattoo takes place throughout August, and - spoiler alert - is generally sold out by January/February each year. So if you've just arrived in Edinburgh and don't have your tickets for it yet, your chances of getting a few returns at the official Tattoo office are limited!
And the Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place for two weeks in August too, celebrating literature from all around the globe with hundreds of event with authors, publishers and illustrators.
So that's what you should brace yourself for if you are coming to Edinburgh this summer. They say the population of the city swells from around 460,000 people to over 1.5 million during the month of August, so you'll be in good company (and lots of it!).
It also means you are heavily advised to pre-book anything you plan to do in the city, from visiting Edinburgh Castle to seeing shows in the festivals, to restaurant reservations and travel plans.
But most of all enjoy it, and - if it's your first time - allow yourself to be immersed in the madness. Edinburgh during the festival(s) is like nothing else.
It is, some might say, the greatest show on Earth. Welcome.
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