Edinburgh Castle has loomed above the city since the 12th century. Not all of the original castle remains—parts have been destroyed and rebuilt throughout its long history—but the fortress, besieged more times than any other castle than Europe, has survived almost 1000 years of turmoil to retain its perch above Scotland’s capital. Here are eight notable facts about this historical landmark.
The castle was built on a hill known as Castle Rock, a volcanic plug that formed following an eruption 340 million years ago. Fortunately, it is no longer at any risk of erupting—nor are any of Edinburgh’s other extinct volcanoes, including those at Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, with the latter having last erupted more than 200 million years ago.
Today, the area below Edinburgh Castle is a bustling spot: Tourists and locals alike shuffle through the Waverley train station and mill about the Princes Street Gardens. But gathering within the fortress’s shadow would have been nearly impossible a few centuries ago, thanks to the Nor Loch, an artificial loch created in 1460 after James III had the area flooded as a form of defense.
In the mid-1700s, around the time plans were made to construct Edinburgh’s New Town, demands to drain the loch—which was filled with foul sewage and human remains—and develop the area began to grow. In February 2020, Storm Ciara flooded the Gardens, causing some local residents to joke that the Nor Loch had returned once more.
Walter Scott is one of the best-known Scottish writers; his monument stands in the Princes Street Gardens in full view of Edinburgh Castle. This is appropriate, as Scott played a key role in a notable incident in the castle’s history: The recovery of the Scottish Crown Jewels (also called the Honours of Scotland).
After the execution of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in the 17th century, Charles II decided to hide the jewels in case Cromwell and his supporters attempted to seize and melt them down, as they had done with the English Crown Jewels. The Scottish Crown Jewels were concealed at a number of locations before being brought to Edinburgh Castle in 1660 after the restoration of the monarchy.
After the Parliament of Scotland was dissolved to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, the jewels were locked away in a chest at the castle. Eventually, people forgot they were there. In 1818, the Prince Regent (the future George IV), curious about the jewels, set out to find the Honours of Scotland. He instructed a group—led by Scott—to search the castle. The group found the jewels in a chest inside the Crown Room, where they had been left for more than 100 years.
King David I constructed St. Margaret’s Chapel in honor of his mother, Queen Margaret, who died in 1093. The sanctuary, built in 1130, has served as everything from the royal family’s private chapel to a gunpowder storage room. Visitors to Edinburgh Castle can still duck inside to view its original stone arches. You can even get married inside St. Margaret’s Chapel—though you’ll have to trim your guest list quite a bit, as the small space can only accommodate 30 people.
In 1912, workmen excavating the castle discovered the remains of what was once known as David’s Tower behind an old coal cellar. It was originally commissioned by King David II, the son of Robert the Bruce, and built in the 1370s. David’s Tower witnessed some dark events: It was at a dinner in the tower in 1440 that the Earl of Douglas and his brother were accused of treason against the king and taken away for execution shortly afterward.
The tower was destroyed during a siege in 1573, and the ruins were eventually concealed within another structure called the Half Moon Battery. From that point on, it was gradually forgotten until its rediscovery in the 20th century. During World War II, the Crown Jewels were hidden for safekeeping within a medieval bathroom in the tower ruins.
When Edinburgh hosted the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, the castle was put to one of its most unusual uses. Back then, voting was conducted by panels of representatives from each participating country. Most of the performances took place at Usher Hall, but the venue was too small to accommodate jury members as well. The jury members gathered inside Edinburgh Castle, where they were shown on camera casting their votes. The interval act of the song contest also took place at the castle, on the esplanade outside the Great Hall.
Edinburgh Castle’s first governor was appointed in 1067. The current governor, appointed in 2019, has a notable connection with another important figure from the castle’s history. In 1314, Scottish forces under the orders of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots from 1306–1329, recaptured the castle from the English. Many centuries later, one of Robert the Bruce’s descendants, Alastair Bruce, a Major General in the British Army, was appointed governor of the very castle he reclaimed. (In addition to serving as governor of Edinburgh Castle, Bruce has also served as a historical advisor for TV shows like Downton Abbey.)
Edinburgh Castle has a reputation for hauntings—it is, after all, located within a city with a storied paranormal history. In 2001, a scientist decided to conduct an experiment to see if he could prove whether its spooky reputation was warranted. As part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Richard Wiseman recruited more than 240 people to explore the castle over a period of 10 days and report back on anything ghostly they noticed; volunteers were selected from people who were unaware of the castle’s reputation for hauntings. While Wiseman described himself as a skeptic about the existence of the supernatural, he was intrigued by the results: 51 percent of volunteers reported experiencing signs of the paranormal around the castle.