The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, creating a requirement for the structures of the city - the built heritage of Edinburgh - to be carefully monitored and maintained to protect their cultural and historical significance.
Although most visitors think naturally of the Old Town as a heritage site, the bulk of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Edinburgh covers the city's New Town, built from the 1760s as an expansion to the original medieval settlement. Together the two halves of Edinburgh create a historical record of around 3,500 years of human occupation, and I always say that if visitors only explore the Old Town they're only getting half of Edinburgh's story.
But Edinburgh is just one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland, with another three of these culturally protected spaces easily accessible from the city itself.
Here's my introduction to all six sites...
EDINBURGH, OLD AND NEW
Both sides of the city centre are scheduled within the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing, showcasing the two distinct characters of Edinburgh's built heritage.
The Old Town grew up largely organically, filling the space between the two royal residences - hence the Royal Mile between the castle and the palace - with narrow streets growing down from the spine of the rock into the valleys to both the north and the south. It was unplanned, chaotic, evolving to meet the needs of the city as it grew from a humble market town to an urban capital.
Edinburgh's Georgian-era New Town, by contrast, represents the finest example of early coordinated town planning in the UK.
Laid out in 1767 to a plan by James Craig, the city expanded in a series of phases that filled the space to the north of the Old Town with grand residential properties, planned parks and gardens, and geometric streets.
The two sides of the city continue to contrast and complement each other, and even today visitors can still experience the difference in the two halves of Edinburgh.
THE ANONTINE WALL
Once the north-western limit of the Roman Empire, the Antonine Wall is often overshadowed by its earlier (and more substantial) cousin, Hadrian's Wall.
Whilst the latter - itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site - ran for nearly 100 miles across northern England and was built from stone, the Antonine Wall was constructed a generation later, and ran for 39 miles across the central belt of Scotland. The camp at Cramond, outside Edinburgh, was the Romans' largest settlement during the brief time they occupied Scotland.
Construction on the Antonine Wall started around 142 CE, and took approximately 12 years. From surviving earthworks archaeologists can tell that the wall comprised an elevated road with a wide rampart about 4m in height, and then a deep ditch, studded along its length with 16 forts to provide an armed force to protect the boundary.
The wall was abandoned less than a decade after its construction when the Romans retreated from Scotland in 162 CE. They destroyed all the wall's defensive structures, dismantling or burning the forts - only the physical rampart of the wall itself was left intact.
Much of the line of the Antonine Wall can still be traced across the central belt of Scotland today, with its ditch and earthwork mound running from Bo'ness on the Forth in the east to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde in the west.
The Anontine Wall was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
These neolithic features are some of the most intensely studied archaeological sites in the UK, and some of the most important historic sites in the whole of Europe. They offer an insight into the lives (and deaths) of the people living around 5,000 years ago, and include a burial mound, a village, and remnants of two impressive stone circles which are among the oldest such sites in the whole of Britain.
Despite its relative inaccessibility Orkney is a popular destination for visitors, and shows another element of Scotland's diverse natural and cultural heritage.
A good reminder that not all World Heritage Sites have to be ancient monuments or structures, New Lanark, about 35 miles south west of Edinburgh, is a mill town established in 1785, during the early years of what became the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
Established as a cotton mill, producing cloth that could then be exported around the UK and turned into a variety of clothing, New Lanark also provided accommodation for the up to 2,500 people who worked there. The care given to the workers meant the town developed as a new kind of philanthropic industrialism, where children were given an education and families were could access innovative social and welfare programs.
The mill's later owner, Robert Owen, met opposition from investors and business partners who didn't care for the reforming principles he espoused.
But Owen was able to demonstrate that it wasn't necessary for industry to exploit its workers in order to be commercially viable and successful. Discipline was maintained without using punishments, and a portion of the mill workers' wages was put into a fund for supporting those who fell sick or needed medical treatment.
By the 1800s New Lanark was the largest mill in Scotland, and one of the largest factory operations in the whole world. The mill evolved and changed over the generations, until it finally closed as an industrial operation in 1968, nearly 200 years after it was first established.
New Lanark was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, in recognition of the integration of Owen's philanthropy, reform, planning and industrial principles, and now operates as a charity as well as functioning as an active mill with a thriving local village community.
Surrounded by the north Atlantic Ocean, just over 40 miles north-west from the island of Uist in the Outer Hebrides - and 110 miles from the nearest point of the Scottish mainland - this island community was likely occupied as far back at 2,000 years ago, but with a population that never exceeded 70 people. The island was finally evacuated of its final 36 (human) residents in 1930.
St Kilda is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the globe which is listed for both its natural and cultural qualities.
THE FORTH BRIDGE
The most recent addition to Scotland's UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the Forth Bridge, once nicknamed the eighth wonder of the world, which was inscribed in 2015.
Opened in 1890, the bridge continues to provide a rail link to the north of Edinburgh, over the Firth of Forth. Its distinctive cantilevered structure, painted in an eye-catching red colour, was deliberately over-engineered following the collapse of the Tay Bridge, a railway crossing outside of Dundee, which resulted in at least 59 deaths of passengers on a train which fell into the water as the bridge collapsed during a winter storm in 1879.
The Forth Bridge bridge connects the towns of North and South Queensferry, and was the first major project in the UK to be built from steel. It has since become an iconic feature that has entered popular culture in a variety of ways.
Like the ancient tale of Sisyphus, eternally pushing his boulder up a mountain, an unending or protracted task is often described as being 'like painting the Forth Bridge' - because by the time they had finished painting the bridge, they immediately needed to start all over again!
Today the Forth Bridge continues to provide a vital transport link into and out of Edinburgh, and can be viewed from either of the towns at its ends, or from a rail journey across its length.
So visitors to Edinburgh can easily tick off another UNESCO World Heritage Site or two during their visit - though St Kilda and Orkney require rather more of an effort to access...
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Down with kings and queens! Down with lords and earls and princes and princesses!
I'm not feeling more than usually treasonous today, I'm just thinking about how so many of the stories we tell about Scottish history tend to focus on those figures from the upper echelons of society.
Listen in to any tour guide plying their trade along the Royal Mile (and, for reasons of full disclosure and research, I have done my share of earwigging on other guides over the summer!) and the chances are they're banging on about some king or queen and the awful or marvellous things they did or said.
But what about the ordinary folk of Edinburgh? What about the everyday citizens, the people not blessed with status or wealth, those folk like me and you who lived drab, wretched lives and never got to see the inside of a palace or the throne room of a castle?
Their stories are also important! Because, actually, they were the people who really made up the bulk of what happened through history. So to help correct some of the narratives about high status historical figures getting all the attention, here are some of the ordinary people who played their part in Edinburgh's extra-ordinary history...
Make your way down the Royal Mile and peering out from above one of the lanes on High Street is the face of a young boy - this is no merely allegorical figure, but Joseph McIvor, a 12-year-old boy who was living in the building on Paisley Close in 1861.
One night during November the building - which by that time was already several hundreds of years old - finally collapsed, reduced to a tangle of rubble and timber, and Joseph McIvor was one of the survivors pulled out alive by rescuers who attended the site.
The collapse of Paisley Close was a major moment in Edinburgh's history, and led directly to the Victorian-era 'Improvements' which saw a significant amount of the city's medieval building removed and replaced with modern alternatives. These are the buildings that you typically see in the Old Town today.
Joseph McIvor wasn't the only survivor of the Paisley Close disaster, but his face was attached to the building that was put up as a replacement - along with the words he is alleged to have called out from under the rubble: "Heave awa', lads - I'm no' deid yet!"
Feted with a pub named in her honour on the Grassmarket today, Maggie Dickson was put on trial in the 1720s for concealing her pregnancy (a crime in itself) and for killing the baby when it was born. Despite her protestations about the baby having died naturally, Dickson was sentenced to be hanged.
Except by some quirk of fate, she survived the execution, and was discovered alive in her coffin sometime shortly before her burial!
Her survival, and the controversy that followed, led (it is said) to the adoption of a new detail in the legal legislation of the time - the sentence was thereafter to be hanged until dead - an important judicial distinction!
If Maggie Dickson can hardly be claimed as an 'unknown' figure in the city, John Livingston is a man I would bet no tour guides trouble themselves to mention. He was an apothecary (a kind of chemist) and a medic in the sixteenth century, and was successful enough in his business to have been able to afford to purchase land and establish a grand estate for himself past Bruntsfield, to the south of the Royal Mile.
Sadly Livingston only got to enjoy his life at Greenhill for around 15 years, before his death in 1645. His work had taken him into regular contact with victims of the plague, many of whom were quarantined out of the city, and most of whom would be buried in the communal plague graves in the area of Morningside.
Livingston contracted plague and on his death was buried on the estate he'd bought for himself - his grave can still be visited just off Chamberlain Road today.
A figure whose name was linked to that of Mary, Queen of Scots - Rizzio was her secretary, and in 1566 he was murdered in the queen's chambers at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
There remains debate and speculation around the reasons and motives for Rizzio's death, but what can't be denied is that his killing in 1566 set Mary (and, by extension, Scotland) on a course that proved to be significant. The chain of events which followed Rizzio's murder saw Mary accused of complicity in the death of her own husband, and from there into the care of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who kept Mary a prisoner for 19 years before finally executing her.
As I talk about on tours quite often, if Rizzio hadn't died that night in March 1566, the next 400 years of Scottish history could have turned out rather differently...
What started as an ordinary Sunday morning in 1637 led Britain into a state of civil war - and by some accounts it was a woman named Jenny Geddes who started it!
She was a market trader in Edinburgh who opposed the use of Charles I's Book of Common Prayer in the Scottish Church. Since the Reformation the Church of Scotland had followed a different path from the Church of England, and much of what Charles I had ordained as head of state was incompatible with the practices of the Scottish church.
When the minister of St Giles' Cathedral began reading from Charles' preferred liturgy that monring in 1637, Geddes was sufficiently outraged to throw her stool at the minister - the riot which followed spread across Scotland, and paved the way for the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, aka the English Civil War, which would see Charles I executed and the whole nation plunged into bloody conflict.
If Jenny Geddes could be charged with starting a war, Charles Ewart might be held responsible for single-handedly ending a battle...
Ewart was part of the British armed forces fighting Napoleon's troops at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and was responsible for securing the French army's eagle standard, the flag and emblem which identified the troops and whose capture symbolically represented their defeat.
In the years after Waterloo, Ewart became something of a reluctant celebrity on the dinner party circuit, regaling diners with stories from the battle and his part in Napoleon's defeat. When he died he was buried at his home near Manchester, but his body was later moved to the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, where he was given a full ceremonial military burial. A nearby pub - the highest in Edinburgh - is also named for him.
Picture the scene: Edinburgh, midsummer, 1696. Twenty-year-old student Thomas Aikenhead is walking through the city centre with his friends, when he is overheard to remark that he wished he were in Hell, where it would at least be a bit warmer than an Edinburgh summer...!
A harmless joke to our modern ears, but in 1696 such a comment as that could get a person reported for blasphemy. Which, sadly, is what happened to poor Thomas Aikenhead.
At his trial later that year he found himself facing mounting accusations of denouncing the church, denigrating Christ and corrupting the word of God. His defence was that he was a young man and sometimes said stupid things without thinking. Sadly, his prosecutor was James Stewart, the Lord Advocate of Scotland, who secured a guilty verdict on the charges of blasphemy, and with it a sentence of death.
Aikenhead became the last person in the UK to be executed for blasphemy, on a cold morning in January 1697, when it is to be hoped he did end up in Hell, which certainly would have been a lot warmer than Edinburgh that day....
Born on the Vennel in the Old Town, in 1900, Bessie Watson had been encouraged to learn to play bagpipes as a way of keeping her lungs strong against the risk of TB.
At the age of nine she took part in a procession in Edinburgh, playing her pipes before gathering for a rally led by Emmeline Pankhurst, the coordinator of Britain's Votes of Women campaign in the early 20th century.
Such an impact did young Bessie make with her bagpipes, playing for the Suffragette cause, that a few weeks later she met with Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter, Christabel, who presented her with a brooch depicting Queen Boudica, an ancient British female leader celebrated for leading an uprising against the Romans.
As she grew older Bessie Watson became a key figure in Scotland's suffragette movement, playing her pipes for King George V, on the platform at Waverley Station as women prosecuted for demanding their voting rights were taken away to prison, and playing outside Edinburgh's Calton Jail in support of suffragettes who were imprisoned there.
Watson died in 1992, and is celebrated with a (slightly difficult to find) plaque on the Vennel where she lived, which was unveiled by Scotland's first female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in 2019.
Undaunted by being declined the opportunity to join Edinburgh's medical school in the 1860s, on the grounds that they didn't allow women to train as doctors, Sophie Jex-Blake rounded up another six women who wanted to become medics and persuaded the university to allow them to begin their studies.
Known as the Edinburgh Seven, they were the first women to be allowed to train as doctors in Scotland, and some of the first in the UK, but were never allowed to finish their studies after a riot in the city opposing the university allowing them to study alongside male students.
Jex-Blake later qualified as a doctor overseas and returned to Edinburgh to establish two important institutions - a hospital for women and children, in Bruntsfield, and a medical school to train women as doctors! Her medical school would formally merge with the University of Edinburgh in the 1890s to allow women to train (and graduate) as doctors for the very first time.
In 1813, one of the university's medical graduates was James Barry, who immediately joined the British navy as a medical officer. Barry rose to become the highest ranking officer in the British armed forces, and spent much of the rest of his later career advising military establishments around the world on the best way to care for their patients.
Only after Barry's death, in 1865, when the nurse arrived to prepare his body for his funeral, was it discovered that Barry was in fact a woman - having been born Margaret Ann Bulkley, she had concealed her identity from an early age in order to pursue the career she wanted...
A significant historical figure, becoming influential in British medicine, there is still a lot of mystery around Barry/Bulkley's life, so well established was her change of identity throughout her life. She isn't (to my knowledge) publicly celebrated anywhere by Edinburgh's medical school.
Finally a figure whose name I only learned recently. Robert Morham was Edinburgh's lead city architect in the middle of the nineteenth century, responsible for building more public structures (schools, police stations, swimming pools) than any of the great architectural figures we tend to celebrate on tours.
Morham laid out Princes Street Gardens, and was instrumental in shaping the style of the city as we see it today, and gave the city many of its functional buildings which continue to serve residents and visitors in the city. That his name isn't so well known is, in my opinion, truly a situation which requires correcting.
So, there you have it - a handful (or two) of 'ordinary' people whose lives left an impact on Edinburgh or Scotland, but who are often overlooked in favour of kings and queens... Their stories are equally important and - I think - more interesting than the more well-known histories.
History, as the maxim has it, is written by the winners - but not all of those winners necessarily get the recognition they deserve.
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