As the oldest fortified site in Europe, it’s no wonder Edinburgh Castle attracts millions of visitors to the city every year.
The fortress and royal residence overlooking the city atop Castle Rock has seen its fair share of attempts at political overthrow, seizure and wars for national sovereignty, with its masonry still showing signs of battles and prisoner escape attempts.
Now a fully fledged institution of Edinburgh’s status as a World Heritage Site, here’s everything you need to know about the rich history of Edinburgh Castle and its raison d’être in the very heart of the capital.
When was Edinburgh Castle built?
Having existed for over a thousand years, Edinburgh Castle and its historic buildings date back to the 11th century.
St Margaret’s Chapel, a picturesque backdrop for royal weddings across the centuries, is officially Scotland’s oldest building – erected by King David I of Scotland around 1130.
It was built as a tribute to the king’s mother, Saint Margaret of Scotland (also known as Margaret of Wessex or “the Pearl of Scotland”) who died in the chapel in 1093.
The chapel was then used as a gunpowder store in the 1500s when the capital came under increasing attack, and it remained as such until its sacred roots were rediscovered by the Scottish antiquarian of Edinburgh, Sir David Wilson, in 1845.
The site of numerous battles and attempted attacks on the Scottish capital, Edinburgh Castle has stood the test of time as Britain’s most besieged location.
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Why was Edinburgh Castle built?
The castle was built on top of its rocky outcrop, Castle Rock, in the heart of Edinburgh as a military fortress and royal residence.
Home to kings and queens since the 11th century, the castle was previously used as a military base and offered a vantage point for those seeking to defend their domain against potential invasions and military threats.
Once claimed and built as a site of Royal Scottish Sovereignty, it became the center of battles and clashes between English and Scottish forces in the Scottish Wars of Independence from the late 13th century.
The castle was captured by English forces under the command of Edward I in 1296, but frequently changed hands between the Scottish and English military from the early to mid-14th century.
It was used as a royal residence by monarchs like Mary Queen of Scots and James VI in the 16th and 17th centuries before becoming another battleground of the English Civil War, the Jacobite Rebellion and later a military prison during the Seven Years’ War and the Napoleonic wars with France.
Who owns Edinburgh Castle now?
Major General Alastair Bruce de Crionaich is the Governor of Edinburgh Castle.
King Charles I was the last person to live in the castle, with the site remaining vacant and open to visitors as a tourist attraction.