The place we now call Edinburgh has been continuously inhabited for 10,000 years. When the Romans arrived they found a thriving Celtic community. The area eventually passed to a fierce tribe of medieval Angles (as in Anglo-Saxon), who lost it to the Picts, who lost it to the Scots. It was chartered as a royal city some 800 years ago.
And it’s gorgeous.
I’ve explored the Old Town for two days, a charming tangle of medieval, Renaissance, Georgian, and Victorian lanes and buildings. Its architecture and culture have a subtle French influence, the result of centuries of cooperating with a common enemy, England.
Everywhere I go I see that Scotland is its own country, with its own language, customs, religion, and aspirations. And its own history, with as colorful a cast as any country I’ve ever seen: national hero Robert the Bruce, who led the First War of Scottish Independence Against England in 1314. Mary, Queen of Scots, imprisoned by her half-sister Queen Elizabeth for 19 years. Mary’s son James, the Scottish king who also wore the crown of England. Oliver Cromwell, who occupied Edinburgh in 1650 to punish it for supporting the Restoration of the Stuarts.
And then the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution both apparently started right here in Edinburgh. Statues to David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns, James Watt, and others dot the city. I also learned how the loss of supplies of raw cotton during the American Civil War forced Scotland to diversify, and then develop world-class industries building ships and locomotives.
I went to the Scottish National Museum, documenting century after century of warfare, coinage, diplomacy, and maritime commerce. Yes, they’re a nation. I ended the day with a drive through the New Town, a sophisticated urban center outside the ancient city walls. “It looks a bit like Dublin,” I told my guide. “Yes,” he nodded, “They were built at the very same time.”
I’m here only 48 hours and already love this place. Fortunately, the weather combines all the charm of Chicago and Seattle, so I’m safe from any impulses to emigrate.