At the bottom end of the Royal Mile, on land that was, until fairly recently, dilapidated and unkempt, sits one of Edinburgh's multitude of iconic buildings. Not the Palace of Holyroodhouse, HRH the Queen's official residence in Scotland, but another, more recent construction that continues to divide opinion.
With politics in Scotland currently very much to the fore, following last year's historic referendum on independence and the up-coming General Election in May 2015, the new Scottish Parliament building is well worth checking out. Designed by a Catalan architect Enric Miralles, the building occupies a former brewery site, and is strikingly (some would say unpleasantly) modern in its use of concrete, steel, wood and glass.
The building remains a controversial structure on the grounds of its cost. Originally budgeted at £40m, the final cost of the building soared to over £400m. It began construction just before the turn of the millennium, and was finally opened in 2004. Unfortunately Miralles didn't live to see his 'magnum opus' completed, having died in 2000, aged just 45, from a brain tumour.
With the old Scottish Parliament having dissolved following the Act of Union in 1707, when the new Parliament first sat again in 1999 the meeting was opened with the words, "The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on 25th March 1707, is hereby reconvened...". After nearly 300 years, the Scottish Parliament was back in action! Today, 129 members are publicly elected to the Scottish Parliament every four years, with the next Scottish elections due to take place in May 2016.
Even if the exterior of the building doesn't wow you - check out the recurring motif in the panels around the windows, believed to be based on Raeburn's 'Skating Minister' painting; or view the 'thinking pods' built into the MSPs' private offices at the rear of the building, protruding out from the wall; or view the whole building from above, atop the Salisbury's Crags in Holyrood Park, to see its shape, emerging from the land like a tree - the building (or complex of buildings) is still worth viewing from the inside, where the design and features of the rooms have an astonishingly airy and contemporary feel.
Lovers of architecture (and especially modern architecture!) will love this innovative and provocative building, which won the national Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2005. On a warm, sunny day, casual visitors will appreciate dipping their toes in its loch-inspired ponds, or relaxing on the grass of its landscaped grounds.
Free guided tours of the Parliament building are available, including access to the public gallery of the debating chamber where MSPs engage in the business of managing a variety of aspects of Scottish legislation, and with a variety of exhibitions, tours and special events to educate and inspire visitors.
Today the Parliament building is just one reason to venture to the bottom of the Royal Mile, and features on my Old Town Up-Close and Personal Tour of the city, as well as on my Whisky Walks.
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...