Edinburgh Castle, by far one of Scotland’s most recognizable landmarks, has dominated the city’s dramatic landscape since time immemorial. The castle’s illustrious history is on display for all to see, attracting a record-breaking 1.7 million visitors last year… or is it? From ghostly inhabitants to its Cold War history, here are 10 facts about this famous fortress that you may not have known.
The castle is perched on a volcano.
However, there is no need for concern, as the volcanic eruption that formed Castle Rock occurred nearly 340 million years ago. Archaeological evidence indicates that people have inhabited Castle Rock since 850 B.C. In the 12th century, however, when the famous Edinburgh Castle was constructed on the mound, it was built directly on the plug of the volcano’s vent. Therefore, the architects must have been reasonably confident that the long-dormant volcano would not erupt once more… right?
It is the most besieged location in the United Kingdom.
Edinburgh Castle has faced hostile forces an astounding 23 times, making it Europe’s most besieged fortress. Notable examples include the Longshanks Siege of 1296, during which Edward I pillaged the castle and transported all of its treasures to London. In addition, the Lang Siege occurred between 1571 and 1573, when the garrison occupying the castle declared its support for Mary, Queen of Scots. The last siege occurred during the Jacobite Rising of 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie failed to capture the fortress. Aside from the daily influx of tourists, the castle has enjoyed a peaceful existence since.
St. Margaret’s Chapel is Scotland’s oldest structure.
Due to the turbulent history of Edinburgh Castle, the various structures on the grounds date from different eras in Scotland’s past. St. Margaret’s Chapel, which dates back to the 12th century, is by far the oldest. She was known for her piety and died just three days after learning of King Malcolm’s death in battle. She was named after Queen Margaret, Malcolm III of Scotland’s spouse. It was the only structure that Robert the Bruce did not destroy when he captured the castle in 1314.
For years, the Scottish crown jewels were missing from the castle.
The Scottish Honours consist of the Crown, the State Sceptre, and the State Sword. This is the only set of British regalia to have survived Oliver Cromwell’s purge of royal symbols; it was used during the coronation of Scottish monarchs. However, following the Union of 1707, which united Scotland and England under one crown, the Honours were locked in a chest in Edinburgh Castle and forgotten for nearly a century, until Sir Walter Scott rediscovered them in 1818. Since then, they have been on display in the castle, with the exception of World War II, when they were hidden for fear of falling into German hands.
The castle is haunted by the Lone Piper’s ghost.
According to legend, secret passageways leading to various parts of Edinburgh were discovered beneath the castle hundreds of years ago. A young piper was sent into the tunnels with the instruction to play his pipes as he walked so that those above could map out the subterranean passageways. However, he abruptly stopped playing, and when they went into the tunnels to find him, there was no trace of the young piper. It is said that his ghostly pipes can still be heard waiting for rescue beneath the castle…
A gun has been keeping time since 1861.
In the days before iPhones and Rolex watches, sailors on ships passing through the Firth of Forth would keep an ear out for a distinct boom emanating from Edinburgh Castle at the same time every day. The original 18-pound gun’s shot could be heard for miles, allowing the sailors to adjust and reset their chronometers to the correct time. Even though its timekeeping functions are no longer required, the battery of the castle continues to fire a gun every day as a beloved tradition.
The elephant once lived in the castle.
We’re not trying to pull your trunk – in 1838, the 78th Highlanders returned from Sri Lanka with a full-grown elephant to Edinburgh. As the castle was one of the primary infantry barracks, the elephant lived with his fellow soldiers and led their marching band. He is also rumored to have reached his trunk through the canteen window before bedtime to grab a pint of beer. His toes are currently on display at the National War Museum on the grounds of the castle.
The KGB altered the castle
You’ve heard the expression that walls have ears… In order to listen in on his courtiers’ conversations, the paranoid King James IV of Scotland had small holes drilled into the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle in the 16th century. Known as the ‘laird’s lugs’ or the lord’s ears, these holes remained a well-kept secret until the 1984 visit of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to Edinburgh. Prior to his arrival in Scotland, the KGB demanded that the holes be filled in in preparation for his visit to the castle. Espionage is never outdated.
It has held nearly 1,000 prisoners in its history.
In addition to royals, the castle housed a number of infamous individuals, including 21 Caribbean pirates sentenced to death by hanging. During the American War of Independence, Edinburgh Castle imprisoned a number of Americans; in fact, one prisoner defiantly carved the American flag into the walls of the castle’s vaults, which is now believed to be the earliest depiction of the Stars and Stripes in history.
There is a dog cemetery on the castle grounds.
A small plot of land off the main path leading to Edinburgh Castle is dedicated to the canine companions of Scottish battalions dating back to 1840. From Jess, the beloved mascot of the Black Watch 42nd Highlanders, to Dobbler, who accompanied the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from China to Sri Lanka and South Africa, these canines are honored for their loyalty and service by being buried on castle grounds – a practice typically reserved for nobles and distinguished soldiers. The cemetery is closed to the public, but the garden can be viewed from the Argyle Battery.
Topic: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Edinburgh Castle
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