Edinburgh : ‘Athens of the North’

Grey and forbidding on a dull and windy day, magnificent in its setting, its Royal Mile one of the very finest streets in Europe and the Castle looking down on a city famed for its culture and learning, Edinburgh has a distinction and nobility all of its own. It has been the capital of Scotland since 1437 and is the seat of the Scottish Parliament. The Old Town and the New Town districts of the city were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995; it has the greatest number of listed buildings of any city in Britain.

The annual Edinburgh Festival is held over about four weeks from early August and it my ambition to go and sample some of its many delights one day. The number of people who swarm into the city is roughly the same as the actual population (448,624). There is a massive programme of theatre, music and film and the Fringe events alone have become the largest performing arts festival in the world. One of Europe’s major tourist destinations, Edinburgh attracts as many as 13 million visitors a year, second in the U.

K. only to London. There are five national Art Galleries in the city, the main one housed in a very Athenian looking building on the Mound.

Edinburgh has a long literary and influential intellectual history going back to the Scottish Enlightenment 1730-1800, which prompted Voltaire to say ‘We look to Scotland for all ideas of civilisation’. David Hume was a practical philosopher who helped form the modern attitudes to science and religion, and – a passionate believer in free trade – influenced Adam Smith, whose ‘The Wealth of Nations’(1775) is still the subject of heated debate amongst economists and politicians.

James Boswell, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson all lived and worked in Edinburgh as does the prolific Alexander McCall Smith and crime writer Ian Rankin today.

J.K.Rowling began writing her Harry Potter stories in an Edinburgh tea shop. Ian Rankin and some of his friends had the idea of celebrating this literary tradition by publishing in various editions R.L.Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’, and distributing them around the city free of charge. 25,000 copies are being circulated this month in public libraries, left on buses, park benches, cafes and bars. No surprise then that the Edinburgh has been declared the first UNESCO City of Literature.

We have visited this impressive city several times, most recently in 2005 at the great ‘Poverty Makes History’ demonstration when many of the civic as well as commercial buildings were festooned with banners marking the occasion.