10 facts you may not know about Edinburgh Castle

SCOTLAND’S leading tourist attraction towers over the capital city.

SCOTLAND’S leading tourist attraction towers over the capital city.

The Royal castle has stood in this spot since the 12th century and remained the Scottish Royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

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Built on top of an extinct volcano, its geographical location made it one of the best defended fortresses in Scottish history.

Its role in wars aside, Edinburgh Castle has had a colourful history to say the least.

Here are some lesser known facts about the historical landmark:

1. Castle Rock has been inhabited for 2865 years

Archaeologists have found evidence that there were early settlers on top of castle rock since the Bronze Age – or 850 BCE. A 1990s dig at the castle found clear signs of habitation including pottery, bronzes and broaches, making it one of the longest continually inhabited sites in Scotland.

2. St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Scotland

Queen Margaret married the Scottish king Malcolm III around 1070. She was known as a good, charitable woman, who also established a ferry service for those wanting to make the pilgrimage to Dunfermline Abbey, the resting place for the kings of Scotland.

When King Malcolm was killed in battle, Margaret was so overcome with grief that she died just a few days later. Her son, David I built the chapel in her memory.

When Robert the Bruce laid siege against the castle in 1314, he had every building destroyed except this one, cementing its status as the oldest building in the country.

3. Witches were burnt at the stake here

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Scotland has a well documented, bloody history throughout the years, but none as violent as the witch trials it conducted. One such person was Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis who stood trial accused of using witchcraft against King James V. Even though it was clear Janet was innocent, King James held a vendetta against her family and tortured her servants until they confessed to their mistress being a witch. She was burnt at the stake on the esplanade just outside the castle walls.

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4. Size does matter in sieges’

In 1715, the Jacobites were determined to overthrow the throne. In one particular siege event, the Jacobites tried to storm the castle under the clock of night, using a ladder. However, the ladder proved to be too short, leaving the Jacobite rebellions stranded until morning, where they were discovered and promptly arrested.

5. Many people believe it is haunted

One of the more infamous stories about the castle ghosts is that of the bagpiper. When the tunnels underneath the Royal Mile was first discovered, a piper was sent down to investigate, playing his bagpipes along the way so people above could track him. When the music suddenly stopped playing around half way down the Mile, a search party was sent down to retrieve the boy, however he was never found. Several search parties combed the tunnels, looking for him, but the body was never retrieved. People say his music can still be heard under the castle and the Royal Mile.

6. The castle housed many prisoners of war

Having spent a significant part of its history as an army fortress, the castle has seen many prisoners housed here over the year. These notably include 21 pirates of the Caribbean, most of who were found guilty of piracy and hung off the coast of Leith. American prisoners were held here from 1776 to 1781 when the two nations were at war during the War of Independence. Over 1000 prisoners were thought to have been held here.

7. The Scottish crown jewels were lost in the castle for over 100 years

After the unification of the crowns, the Scottish crown jewels no longer had any significant part to play in the newly formed British government. These Honours of Scotland were then locked away in a chest and stored in the castle, all but forgotten about. A group of men, including Sir Walter Scott, set out to recover the Honours in 1818, and they have been on almost constant display since.

8. University of Edinburgh students will fail their final exams

While it’s not really a fact, many University of Edinburgh students hold it to be one. Legend has it that any student of the university who passes through the castle gates will fail their final examinations. While it sounds a bit far fetched to us, many students are unwilling to visit the castle in their time at the university, preferring to play it safe until they’ve graduated.

9. There is a swastika in the castle

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In the War Memorial room, opened to the public in 1927, there is a stained glass window which contains the symbol. Before the Nazis hijacked the symbol during the Second World War, the swastika was still a symbol of good fortune, used in Hinduism and Buddhism and was placed in the glass before the wide-spread use by Hitler.

10. The KGB had the castle altered

King James IV liked to spy on his subjects who gathered in the Great Hall through a tiny barred up window on the right hand side of the fireplace, termed the “laird’s lug” (lord’s ears).

Mikhail Gorbachev was set to visit the castle in 1984 during the final years of the Cold War and the Soviet secret service asked that they brick up this hole in the wall for security reasons.

Mikhail never made it to the castle, as on the morning he was set to visit, he recieved the news that the then General, Konstantin Chernenko had died.