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The biggest arts festival in the world

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Edinburgh International Festival
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Hub
After the end of the Second World War, people naturally needed cheering up. One idea that came out of Scotland was to start an annual arts festival in their capital. Its official aim was to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit".
The first of these carefully organised events was called the Edinburgh International Festival. It consisted of mainly opera, classical music and dance performances. The show was widely hailed as a good idea, although some thought the line-up was a bit narrow-minded. Several other groups wanted to take part, but were told they wouldn't be able to do so. Their solution to this problem was simple. They turned up anyway, and performed without permission. In that first year, 8 different theatrical companies gatecrashed the festival. The year after that, even more joined in!

A performance on the Royal Mile
Photo Hugh Simmons
These renegade artists eventually became the official Festival Fringe. In a way, the events are still organised in the same way. The Edinburgh International Festival has a line-up of opera, music and dance, all selected by personal invitation. Meanwhile, the Fringe is still open to anybody at all. The only thing that's really changed is the scale. From its relatively modest beginnings, these summer celebrations have exploded into a phenomenon that takes over the city for at least three weeks in August. Plenty of other groups have since joined in, covering just about every method of artistic expression ever invented. There are book readings, art exhibitions and musical performances of all genres. This means that, in truth, there's no such thing as the "Edinburgh Festival". It's really just dozens of different celebrations that happen to all take place at once. Together, they form the world's biggest artistic and cultural experience.
The event's headquarters is in an old church on the Royal Mile. The summit of its spire is the highest point in the city centre. It fell out of use as a place of worship in 1979, and stood virtually abandoned until the 90s. Then the festival committee moved in, and transformed the building completely. They renamed it The Hub, and installed an arts venue, a cafe and a huge box office.

The Hub
Photo the quad laser
The rest of the festival is spread throughout literally hundreds of venues. Of course, all the theatres and music halls have full programmes, but shows aren't limited to such typical stages. People exhibit their work anywhere and everywhere, from private homes to public toilets. Sometimes they do it for free, making it tricky to know just how many performances take place. Any educated guess normally ends up in the tens of thousands. If you were to watch every single one, back-to-back, it would take you somewhere around 6 years.

Entertaining the crowds at the Edinburgh Festival
Photo Hugh Simmons
These facts come with the disappointing realisation that it's utterly impossible to watch everything. The only possible course of action is to see as much as is humanly possible. As one newspaper once suggested: "you can sleep in September".
Visitor Information
Edinburgh Festival is held annually during the summer, usually in August.

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