Edinburgh named world's first City of Literature

EDINBURGH’S literary credentials were recognised last night when UNESCO announced that the Scottish capital would become the world’s first City of Literature.

Within hours of an ambitious bid being formally submitted to UN chiefs in Paris, the Scottish delegation, which had been expecting a wait of several months for a decision, was taken aback by the speed of the outcome.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the French capital was expected to confirm the success of the bid later today.

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The Scottish culture minister, Patricia Ferguson, who led the successful 20-strong Scottish delegation, said it was great news for Edinburgh and Scotland.

Speaking from Paris last night, she said: "I’m absolutely delighted at the news that Edinburgh has been recognised as the first UNESCO City of Literature.

"This is not only good news for Edinburgh but for Scotland as a whole. It confirms Scotland’s position as a country of literary excellence."

"It has been approved," said Mounier Bouchenaki, UNESCO’s assistant director general for culture, giving the first indication that Edinburgh’s bid had been a success.

He spoke after a string of city luminaries made the capital’s case to about 100 ambassadors. He said Edinburgh’s bid will be proposed to the executive board today, but added: "It has been accepted with a lot of satisfaction.

"Edinburgh is already recognised as a world heritage city and it will give her additional value."

Organisers of the city’s bid had been talking of a six-month bureaucratic process for the title to be confirmed and seemed caught by surprise by their own apparent success.

Catherine Lockerbie, the director of the Edinburgh Book Festival, said: "We are elated to have got this far. It’s a great night, but it’s the beginning of a journey."

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James Boyle, the head of Scotland’s cultural commission, said: "We are all just completely overwhelmed by the news; we all just stood up and toasted Edinburgh."

The enthusiasm spread throughout the gathering yesterday in a seventh-floor restaurant at the UNESCO building in Paris.

Astrid Noklebie Heiberg, the president of the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO, said: "It’s a wonderful idea and it will certainly whet our appetite for reading even more than Robert Burns and be up to date with modern Scottish literature, which admittedly not all of us are too well versed in."

The Australian representative, Professor Kenneth Wiltshire, said: "It’s a fantastic and terrific initiative that will absolutely get approved."

Edinburgh’s case was clinched yesterday, it appeared, by the UK’s offer made by Britain’s UNESCO ambassador, Tim Craddock, to fund any extra administrative costs

Lesley Hinds, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, told UNESCO delegates that Edinburgh is a city that wears many hats, as the home of the Scottish Parliament, the many festivals and a financial centre. It was "a city built on books".

She noted the founding of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in Anchor Close; the establishment of Scotland’s first lending library and the printing presses of the Enlightenment; the Writer’s Museum and Makars’ Court.

She cited the development of a new literature quarter, housing literary organisations and publishers, such as Canongate.

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The two-volume dossier handed out to more than 180 UNESCO delegates yesterday contained a foreword by JK Rowling, among others. She underlined that all the books in the Harry Potter series have been largely created in the city.

"It’s also impossible to live in Edinburgh without sensing its literary heritage everywhere."

The first volume, We cultivate literature on a little oatmeal, takes its title from the Rev Sydney Smith’s proposed motto for the Edinburgh Review in 1802, and is printed in English and French.

It traces Edinburgh’s literary contribution from the first printing press in 1507 to the UK’s best-selling crime-writer, Ian Rankin, and other modern writers such as Irvine Welsh, Muriel Spark and James Kelman, noting the last-named has been compared to Kafka, Joyce and Beckett.