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 Sunday, 8 December, 2002, 13:48 GMT
Unique character of medieval town
Royal Mile
The Royal Mile at the opening of the Scottish Parliament
The historic buildings of Edinburgh's Old Town help to mark it out as one of Europe's most beautiful and architecturally important cities.

In 1995, the Old Town, along with the city's New Town, was designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

That puts it in the same bracket as the Taj Mahal and the pyramids of Egypt.

Of the 13 other World Heritage Sites in the UK, St Kilda and New Lanark are the only other Scottish sites with Bath the only other urban centre.

Edinburgh, capital of Scotland since the 15th century, presents the dual face of an old city dominated by a medieval fortress and a new neo-classical city whose development from the 18th century onwards exerted a far-reaching influence on European urban planning


In its listing, Unesco paid tribute to the Old Town's "many buildings of great significance".

It says the juxtaposition of the Old and New Towns is what "gives the city its unique character".

The Old Town is dominated, like the city, by the castle on a crag which has been fortified since the Iron Age.

It is the great streets lined with imposing buildings which sweep up to the castle, and the network of closes in between, which tourists flock to in their millions every year.


One of these buildings, on Chambers Street, is Adam House, currently owned by the University of Edinburgh, and used for exhibitions and as a venue during the International Edinburgh Festival.

Named after the Adam family of architects who shaped much of the Georgian New Town, it has suffered smoke damage.

The tenement buildings surrounding it date back to the early 16th century and formed the blueprint for classic Scottish housing.

They were home to all levels of society in the capital.

Edinburgh old Town
The Old Town with the castle behind
In the 17th century, the burgeoning city of Edinburgh was desperately short of space.

The rock on which the city had been established was surrounded on three sides by boggy ground, so the city fathers built up.

The wealthiest families would take one whole house but relatively rich merchants would live side-by-side with the poor crammed into sub-divided flats next door.

The Old Town was the buzzing hub of city life.

The Scottish Parliament met there until the Act of Union with the English in 1707 and well into the 18th century, the area was also the home of Scotland's law courts, learning and commerce.

It is some of these old seven storey buildings in Chambers Street and the Cowgate which have been burning over-night.


This area of the city now forms the route for walking tours and ghost walks because it played host to some of the city's most notorious characters.

The Cowgate was the stalking ground of the infamous bodysnatchers, Burke and Hare, who dug up freshly-buried bodies from graveyards and plied them to medical students at the nearby Old Surgeon's Hall.

Then, near the Lawnmarket by its junction with George VI Bridge, is Brodie's Close.

This was named after a respectable craftsman, Francis Brodie, but it is his son William who has given his name to a nearby pub.

In the 18th century, Deacon Brodie was by day a respectable member of the town council, but by night burgled his wealthy neighbours.

He came to a sticky end in 1788 after an abortive raid on the Excise Office in the Royal Mile.

Ironically, also an inventor, he was hanged on a scaffold which he himself had designed.

In the 18th century, the development of the Georgian New Town led to "The Great Flitting" when the higher classes moved out of the stinking hole the Old Town had become to the new elegant squares across Princes Street.

However, in recent decades, the Old Town has undergone a commercial and entertainment resurgence and was declared a conservation area with the creation of the Old Town Renewal Trust.

  The BBC's Nigel Robson
"Thick smoke and sparks swirled over the city centre"
  Tom Monro, Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade
"It's been a very difficult, complex fire"
See also:

07 Dec 02 | Scotland
08 Dec 02 | Scotland
17 Oct 02 | Scotland
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