EDINBURGH CASTLE

 Edinburgh Castle, on a green hill top.

EDINBURGH CASTLE


by ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON


Meditative people will find a charm in a certain conancy between the aspect of the city and its odd and stirring history. In the very midst stands one of the most satisfactory crags in nature - a Bass Rock upon dry land, rooted in a garden, shaken by passing trains, carrying a crown of battlements and turrets, and describing its warlike shadow over the liveliest and brightest thoroughfare of the new town... Princes Street, with its mile of commercial palaces all beflagged upon some great occasion, see, across a gardened valley set with statues, where the washings of the old town flutter in the breeze at its high windows. And then, upon all sides, what a clashing of architecture! In this one valley, where the life of the town goes most busily forward, there may be seen, shown one above and behind another by the accidents of the ground, buildings in almost every style upon the globe. Egyptian and Greek temples, Venetian palaces and Gothic spires, are huddled one over another in a most admired disorder; while, above all, the brute mass of the Castle and the summit of Arthur’s Seat look down upon these imitations with a becoming dignity, as the works of Nature may look down upon the monuments of Art. But Nature is a more indiscriminate patroness than we imagine, and in no way frightened of a strong effect. The birds roost as willingly among the Corinthian capitals as in the crannies of the crag; the same atmosphere and daylight clothe the eternal rock and yesterday’s imitation portico; and as the soft northern sunshine throws out everything into a glorified distinctness - or easterly mists, coming up with the blue evening fuse all these incongruous features into one, and the lamps begin to glitter along the street, and faint lights to burn in the high windows across the valley - the feeling grows upon you that this also is a piece of nature in the most intimate sense; that this profusion of eccentricities, this dream in masonry and living rock, is not a drop-scene in a theatre, but a city in the world of every-day reality, connected by railway and telegraph-wire with all the capitals of Europe, and inhabited by citizens of the familiar type, who keep ledgers and attend church. By all the canons of romance, the place demands to be half deserted and leaning towards decay; birds we might admit in profusion, the play of the sun and winds, and a few gypsies encamped in the chief thoroughfare: but these citizens, with their cabs and tramways, their trains and posters, are altogether out of key.

...A ROMANCE OF THE LAND...

 

WHAT IS THE ORIGIN of a city? Search your mind, and you might find in there images of archaeological sites: mud and stone dwellings that rose from the ground, formed by the hands of the dwellers.

Then picture Edinburgh... let us say it is one clouded day in August. What can you see? The stones, the grey stones of each building forming a canvas of middle-tones. These stones are not unlike to those that they perch on. Each city has its origins in the earth, from whence it came.

Edinburgh is rooted to the earth, and protrudes from it. Situated on a precipitous rock, the most conspicuous landmass for miles around, the rock provided protection to the first peoples of the area, being difficult to approach as the forest below was wild and tangled with dark pools and treacherous morasses. It was only in the time of King David that the area below the rock was turned into a garden. 

The rock itself was once a power house - a volcano during the Carboniferous period. It is formed of a hard basalt. Only the eastern slope is accessible, being of an easier gradient to climb, and it was here that the town began to form.

The castle and the town seem not like an intrusion on the scene, but an extension of it. 

THE ROMANTICS DEPICTED in their art various scenes of aesthetic beauty. They disdained the movements of the scientific revolution and urbanisation, believing instead that there was more to life than rational thinking and mechanised living. So they painted not the town but the village; not the new but the old. They loved to evoke the haunting beauty of a decrepit site, maybe a tower ruin with tumbled stones, where nature has taken her course. Each poem, each painting was meant to capture the mysteries of the world, to create an emotion in the audience, and to spark the imagination. 

Castles have long been favoured by romantics as sites on which to drape their visions. Or, in fact, our visions, as the common perception of castles has been molded by romantic notions. Take, for instance, Edinburgh castle... Legends abound, of beautiful dames and surly knights, all performing great deeds at the castle. There is St Margaret, the pious queen who kissed the feet of the faithful, and her husband Malcolm, who, although he loved the clash of shield and spear, and although he could not read, would carry the gifts she gave him - small books of devotion - and would clasp them close to his breast. He built for her a tiny chapel, still standing in the courtyard of the castle today. Other legends tell us of showmanship, bouts of jousting, and tales of intrigue and scandal - nights that brought death to whole families, murdered at the dinner table; or great escapes of prisoners down the side of the rock face. These tales would not be out of place in a story book, The Princess Bride perhaps.

And, in fact, Edinburgh castle has found its way into the story books too... The Gododdin, an ancient Welsh text, and one of the earliest references to King Arthur, linked his personage to the city of Edinburgh. The craggy hill facing the castle is supposedly one place where Arthur sat, to watch his army march through the lands below, and there are whisperings that the castle itself was that Castle of Maidens so often mentioned in Arthurian legend. The naming of the castle as 'Castellum Puellarum' (Castle of Women) by the local monks would be one piece of evidence for this theory.

But, we must admit that Edinburgh is not a scene of classical romanticism. As Robert Louis Stevenson so aptly notes, the scene is not one of ruin, devoid of the trappings of present-day men, but is instead a living organism complete with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And yet, is there not something romantic in all of that? Is it not beautiful, to be able to find emotion and meaning in the everyday goings on of this incredible city?

 
 Buttresses on a round tower and white daisies at Edinburgh Castle.
 Saluting like a guard at Edinburgh Castle
 Edinburgh Castle front gate and coat of arms.
 Window reflection of an equestrian statue in Edinburgh Castle.
 Stained glass window in the old chapel in Edinburgh Castle.
 Tower seen through a walkway, Edinburgh Castle.
 Stained glass patterns and knights coats of arms
 Medieval painting of Scottish unicorns and declaration.

AN EVERYDAY ROMANCE

I remember coming to the castle grounds many times, feeling drawn to the rock that was visible for miles around. Maybe this is how people felt when they first laid eyes upon it: as if they must absolutely climb to the tippy-top.
I would go to the castle esplanade for a moment alone, to just be with my thoughts. Among all the tourists clicking their cameras, I could blend in. Diffuse myself if you will, and focus instead on the view. 
I went there on the night of Guy Fawkes, when the city was fervent with activity. I was alone, and I missed my family terribly that night, as we would always share Guy Fawkes together, my dad lighting off the fireworks that he had refused to throw out the previous year, and my mother being beside herself with worry that he would blow us all up. But that year it was just me, and I remember looking out at all the fireworks that signified a gathering of people in the streets below, and I thought of my mother, my father, brother and sister. 
The castle was a constant in my everyday life when I lived in Edinburgh. I miss it now, with that same aching feeling I felt on Guy Fawkes.
 Stone buildings inside the walls of Edinburgh Castle.