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The Scottish capital's talismanic fortress

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Great Hall
Crown Room
One O'Clock Gun
Edinburgh Views
You can't help but stare at Edinburgh Castle. It stands at the summit of a gigantic hill, 80 metres up in the air. Even so, when most people finally finish that arduous climb, the first thing they do is point their camera in the opposite direction. The reason is that this is the best view of the city that anyone will ever see. The residents and rulers of the castle have been enjoying the vantage point for hundreds and thousands of years. In that time, it has hosted soldiers, aristocrats and royalty. However, this is no cosy residence. Some castles were built as homes, or as displays of power - but this one was was built for war.
Over the years the fortress was constantly updated, to ensure it was state of the art. It has been involved in plenty of battles and sieges, mostly between the Scottish and English. In medieval Britain it changed hands more times than a rugby ball. Sometimes the castle was taken by force, and sometimes by stealth. On one notable occasion, in 1341, a group of crafty Scottish soldiers conquered the place by pretending to be merchants. As soon as the English let them in, they promptly whipped out their swords and chopped off everybody's head.

A military view from the castle
Photo blondyimp
The castle's history is full of fascinating, but bloody stories like this. Its various chambers are crammed with artefacts and exhibits, which teach you about those dramatic times. One of the biggest rooms is the Great Hall. This was where all the most important events took place, from state assemblies to lavish banquets. It maintains its original medieval ceiling, one of only two left in Scotland.
Whenever a King or Queen came to visit, they stayed in the Royal Apartments. These weren't especially large or comfortable, but they were secure. In 1566 this is where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her only son. He would grow up to become King James VI of Scotland, and James I of England.

Part of the beautiful interior of Edinburgh Castle
PhotoDonna C Green
The Royal Family kept their greatest treasures in the Crown Room. They're called the "Honours of Scotland", and they include a sword, a sceptre and a crown. Ever since the 16th century, they have been presented to each new monarch as they took the throne.
The fortress includes St Margarets chapel that has an even longer history than this. With an age of over 900 years, its actually the oldest building in Edinburgh. Throughout that time, the castle has been attacked, bombarded and even razed to the ground, but the chapel has always survived. Sometimes this happened because the attackers appreciated its religious importance. At other times, it happened by complete chance.

St Margaret's Chapel
Photo snigl3t

Stained glass in St Margaret's Chapel
Photo pythonboot
Outside, in front of the main gatehouse, is the Castle Esplanade. Every August, this large square hosts the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. In this popular ceremony, the armed forces give a display of traditional music and disciplined parades. The castle is actually still used as a military base, with armed sentries on constant watch. The forces are honoured at the Scottish National War Memorial, which pays particular tribute to those who died in the First World War.

The Castle Esplanade
Photo Ipoh
Even though there has been no fighting here for a long time, don't be surprised to hear gunfire. On every day except Sundays, the One O'Clock Gun is fired into the air. As you may have guessed, the shot comes at exactly 1pm. The tradition began in 1861, to inform nearby ships of the exact time.
An accurate watch is an essential tool for visiting Edinburgh Castle. You may want to set your alarm for the early hours of the morning, so you can beat the inevitable crowds. The castle receives more visitors than any other ancient monument in the UK, aside from the Tower of London.
Visitor Information
Edinburgh Castle is open daily from 9:30am to 5pm (6pm in Summer). Entry costs around £14 for adults, £8 children. Castle Hill, Edinburgh EH9 1SH. Tel: 0131 225 9846

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