Edinburgh has a proud heritage of being divided. All across the city, in a variety of contexts, you can find examples of splits and contrasts.
My walking tours explore some of these differences, but here's my brief introduction to five ways in which Edinburgh stretches between extremes...
HIGH TO LOW
From the heights of Edinburgh Castle to the depths of the Cowgate valley, Edinburgh's landscape is a geologically dynamic one. Shaped by two opposing forces: fire and ice, to bring a bit of Games of Thrones to the Scottish capital...
The peaks of the city are created by volcanoes, erupting upwards from beneath the Earth's crust hundreds of millions of years ago - there are three extinct volcanic peaks within Edinburgh's city centre: Arthur's Seat, castle rock and Calton Hill.
During the last Ice Age, when most of Scotland was covered with glaciers, the movement of the ice sheets carved the landscape into ridges and valleys - the volcanic rock was too dense for the glaciers to move, and so the deep clefts between the high peaks were created.
Edinburgh's Old Town is an example of what is known in geology as a 'crag and tail' formation - the crag is the castle rock, while the tail was the line or the ridge left between the two glacial valleys. It was on this ridge that the city grew, and to which it was confined for a long time.
The city would be a major inspiration to one of the figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, a man named James Hutton who is today regarded as the father of modern geology.
OLD TO NEW
The centre of Edinburgh is split into Old Town and New Town, two contrasting sides which continue to offer different experiences to visitors.
Old Town is the more touristy side of the city, the bit which most people think of as 'historic', while the New Town operates as the more local, contemporary side of the city.
And the labels themselves are not entirely accurate - the New Town was built from the 1760s onwards, so is more than 250 years old, while the Old Town was redeveloped by the Victorians from the 1860s, during which process around 75% of the original city structures were demolished and rebuilt.
So, as I often say on my walking tours, New Town isn't as new as people expect, and Old Town isn't as old as people think! In fact, most of the Old Town is a century newer than New Town...
PLANNED vs ORGANIC
The two sides of the city contrast in another way, too - whereas the Old Town grew up chaotically and organically, the New Town was built to a specific plan, laid out by James Craig.
The Old Town lanes had grown up with towering structures reaching up to fourteen storeys high as the need for accommodation pushed developers to add more and more levels to the buildings. Developing in this unpredictable way left the buildings vulnerable to collapse, and by the 19th century many were being removed to replace them with better quality housing.
By contrast, nothing in the New Town is there by accident. The wide of the streets, the height of the buildings, the architectural balancing of the Palladian style visible throughout - even the heights of the windows were all styled and chosen for a very specific purpose and effect.
ANCIENT AND MODERN
A more nuanced sense of old vs new, perhaps - becuse even within the Old Town, for example, there are structures which sit at opposite ends of an architectural spectrum.
Advocate's Close is a good example of this. The carving in the lintel above a doorway near the top of this lane, just off the Royal Mile, bears the date 1590 - the building was built by Clement Cor for him and his wife Helen Bellenden.
This structure is over 400 years old, and remains active as a residential space even after all that time. Many visitors are surprised to discover the city isn't a museum city, preserved behind glass - it is a living, breathing, working city, and these centuries old buildings remains active as people's home and businesses.
But look further down Advocate's Close and you'll see some incredibly modern developments, dating back to 2014 when an undertaking was made to improve the surviving structures here and make them functional for a modern age. The development was awarded the status of Best New Building in Scotland, for its efficient and authentic restoration of what was a rather dilapidated segment of the city, at a cost of £45m, to create a series of modern, accessible and functional spaces that integrate well with the surrounding environs, and preserves the feel of Edinburgh's Old Town charm.
On this one lane, as elsewhere in Edinburgh, ancient and modern sit (almost) seamlessly side-by-side.
RICH AND POOR
Like many modern cities, Edinburgh has its share of social issues, including a stark disparity between residents living at opposite ends of a socioeconomic scale. Sadly this isn't a new phenomenon - Edinburgh has long been divided into the 'haves' and 'have nots', from the time when the houses themselves were built by specific families who then sublet them to poorer citizens, reaping a financial benefit from their role as landlords.
After the exodus of wealthy citizens to the New Town in the 18th century, much of the Old Town was left to fall into ruin - Robert Louis Stevenson describes standing on South Bridge, looking down to the Cowgate, and saying one could look from one level of society to the next in the twinkling of an eye: wealthy people lived up on the bridge, while the dispossessed of Edinburgh lived literally in the arches of the bridge beneath them.
Even the Royal Mile experienced a wealth divide - Canongate was the area which lay beyond the city walls, where wealthy figures who had court business could live in closer proximity to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
They were largely immune from the charges made to enter the gates of the city, whereas for the very poor residents of Edinburgh the cost to enter was so great many of them would never have left during their entire lives - not for nothing did one junction become known as the World's End...
These experiences of division and contrast combined within one city boundary famously gave rise to one of the greatest creations of the horror genre, in Stevenson's classic novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Stevenson based the character on notorious criminal Deacon William Brodie, and set the scene for paranoia and violence - however, in the real world of Edinburgh, the contrasting characters and styles of city continue to offer a rich and vibrant cultural experience.
Explore more of Edinburgh's intriguing contrasts with my private city walking tours!
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