Edinburgh - 'The NorthEast View of Edinburgh Castle'

With the Scottish variant of the Union Flag flying high and figures strolling on the esplanade, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city. This prospect shows a fortified area which doesn't feature in Slezer's drawing of 1675. The buildings on the left are in Portsburgh, a suburb outside the city walls.

This view was not included in the first edition of Theatrum Scotiae.

Previous   |   Index   |   Next

view / zoom large image  |  help

Slezer Engraving

enquiries / copies

view related town plans

See also:

  Read what Robert Sibbald wrote in Theatrum Scotiae about Edinburgh


To His Grace William Duke of Hamilton, Marquess of Cliddesdale, Earl of Arran and Lannerick, Lord Aven, Machlanshire and Pomont, &c. Lord High Commissioner for the Kingdom of Scotland, President of their Majesties Most Honourable Privy Council; and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, &c.


Edinburgh is situated in Mid-Lothian, a Shire of Scotland. It is the Chief City of the Kingdom, and Royal Seat. It far surpasseth all the other Cities of the Kingdom in the Stateliness of its Churches, the Beauty and Neatness of its publick and private Buildings, the Pleasantness of its Site, the Largeness of its Precincts, the Number and Opulency of its Inhabitants, and Dignity of its Rulers. By the most ancient Inhabitants it was called Dun Eden; by the Latins, Edinodunum, and by the Germans, Edinburghen; all which signifie the same thing.

Dun Eden signifies a Town upon a Hill, or rather a City of the Edeni, situated on a Hill. The Edeni are those who by Ptolomy are termed Ottodeni, which Word (as some Learned Men think) was mistaken for Scottodeni, the two first Letters Sc being worn out with Time: For near to this City is Curia Ottodenorum, whose Name remains to this Day in a Village Four Miles West from the City, called Currie: And two Miles West from the Town is Corstopitum (which also was among the Ottodeni) which is a Village commonly called Corstorfin.

Ptolomy calls this Place Στρατοπεδον Πτερωτον ['stratopedon pteroton' = 'winged camp'], Castrum alatum, the Winged Castle, which is not so called from that kind of Wings which the Greek Builders (as says Vitruvius) call Πτερωματα ['pteromata' = 'wings'], (which are double Walls so rising to the Height, that they resemble Wings: For it is likely there was no regular building in that Place at that time) but that they were such as by the Poet Juvenal are called Castella Brigantum; which sort of Castles we may see described by Tacitus, Annal. Lib. XII where he says, That upon high Mountains, and other Places of difficult Access, he built up Stones in Form of a Fence, where the River did run on a slippery Ford. Now these Fences of Stone were nothing else, but Stones cast together without Mortar, which is also clear from the same Author in the fore-cited Place, where he says, The Souldiers holding their Bucklers over their Heads for a Defence, pulled down the unwrought and ill-built Stones; which could not have been so easily done, if they had not been cast together without Mortar. And certainly our Ancestors chose out this as a very fit Place for a Fort of that Nature: For the Hill where the Castle stands is exceedingly steep and craggy, and the Ascent very difficult, except where it looks to the East, which Part they fortified with Stones cast together as before. The Ascent on which the City now stands had, and yet hath upon the North-side, a standing Pool, which is commonly called the North-Loch. Upon the South-side of the Hill there was likewise another standing-Pool called the South-Loch: The Verity of which the Rights and Leases of some Houses of St. Ninian's Row, do testifie, which are let with the Privilege of a Boat annexed; and these two Lochs or Lakes bounded the City upon these two Sides, as the North-Loch does it at this Day upon the North-side; but the South-Loch was drained a Hundred Year ago, and upon the Banks thereof are built two several Tracts of Houses, between which (in the Place where the Loch it self stood) is a Street called the Cowgate. And so the Breadth of the City toward the South, is far extended beyond its former Limits; as likewise the Length thereof toward the West is much enlarged, for the Grass Market and Horse Market are now within the City-Wall.

The Reason why this Place is called Castrum Alatum, or The winged Castle, is to be taken from the very Nature of the Place: For, besides the Lakes on both sides, there are two Hills near the Rock on which the Castle stands, viz. Sarisbury and Neils Craigs, so named from the sometime Owners thereof, which in a manner resemble Wings, as is easily perceived Coming to the City from the South-East by the Sea Side; for then these Rocks appear like Wings stretched forth, and the Rock on which the Castle stands, like the Head of a Bird with a Tuft. And this is the genuine Derivation of the Word.

I know there are some learned Persons who will have Ptolomy's Castrum Alatum, to be in another part of the Country, and not to be Edinodunum, seeing he makes his Στρατοπεδον ['stratopedon' = 'camp'] to be amongst the Vacomagi; but Ptolomy must be born with in all his Mistakes of the Situation of Places here; for being an Egyptian, living in Alexandria, and forced to take things upon Trust, and follow the Relation of others, it is no Wonder is he be sometimes mistaken.

The greater Part of the City is built upon the Ascent, and it is very probable that the Castle has been the Cause of Building the City: For first the Neighbours have built a few Houses near the Castle, that under the Reach thereof they might be defended from the Injuries of their Enemies. The Number of the People growing apace, the Number of the Houses likewise encreased, and stretched forth to the very Foot of the Ascent toward the East; by which the City, together with the Suburbs of the Canon-gate and King's Palace, is become one entire Scotch Mile in length; but in breadth it is less by the half, notwithstanding the Suburbs be included. The High Street from the Castle to the Abbey is adorned with stately Buildings, which are of late made of hewen Stone, since that by an Act of the Town-Council it hath been prohibited (for the frequent burnings which happened) to build any more Timber-Houses either in the City or Suburbs.

The great Breadth of the High Street, and of the many Lanes which lie on each side the same, from the North to the South (which send up the Air as it were in Pipes into the High Street) and the Nearness of the two Hills called Neils Craigs on the North, and Sarisbury Craigs on the South, do always refresh the Town with Air; which conduces not a little to the Wholesomeness hereof, and it was never heard that the Plague raged in it, except brought in thither by infected Wares. Which Purity of the Air is daily encreased since the Time that excellent fresh Water was brought into the City from a Fountain three Miles distant from the same, and that by a most wise Act of the Council all Nastiness is removed.

The City is enclosed with a kind of an Old Roman Wall on every side, except towards the North, where the North-Loch does secure it instead of a Wall.

The City is entered by six Gates or Ports: Two of which are to the East, two to the South, one to the West, and one lately made to the North.

One of the Gates to the East is called the Netherbow, which in the Year 1616, was magnificently rebuilt, being the chief Gate of the City, adorned with Towers on both sides.

The other Gate to the East is called the Cowgate Port, through which there is an Entry into the Nether Street, of the length of the whole City, and is called the Cowgate.

The Eastmost of these Gates to the South (through which is an Entry into the City) is called the Potter-Row Port, from the Suburb called the Potter-Row.

The Westmost of these is called the Society Port, properly the Brewer's Port. They have a great square Court in that Place, with Buildings and brave Houses round about it, to the very Walls of the City.

The West-Gate at the other End of the City, lying beneath the Castle, affords an Entry from the Suburb of the same Name.

The North-Gate, which was last made at the Lower End of the Noth-Loch, is twofold, the Inner and the Outer Port, through which there is an Entry into the City from the Suburb called the Mutter's Hill.

There are two Streets extending the whole length of the Town. The chief Street which is also called the Higher, is one of the broadest in Europe: From it there run many Lanes on both sides. The Nether or Lower Street hath also many Lanes running to the South.

In the very middle of the City there is a Cathedral Church, which is called St. Giles's Church, of such Largeness that it is divided into three Churches, every one of which has its own Parish. It is built of hewen Stone, adorned with Pillars and Vaultings of Stone. In the middle it forms a perfect Cross, by four Parts of this Church meeting together, and they support a stately, high Tower, with a Top of curious Workman-ship, representing an Imperial Crown. Beside this Cathedral Church there are in the City,

The South-Church, called the Gray-Friars Church, which stands in the middle of the common Burial-place. Many Tombs and Monuments do surround the Church-Yard, amongst which that of Sir George Mackenzy does appear like a Mausolaeum.

There is also a Church of square hewen Stone with a Tower built in the Year 1641, which is called the Trone-Church.

The Collegiate-Church of the Sacred Trinity, was built by Mary of Gueldres, King James the Second's Queen, where also she lies interred.

Near to this Church is the Hospital of St. Thomas, in which the poorer sort of Inhabitants, both Men and Women, are maintained splendidly enough, and have their own proper Chaplain.

Over-against this Church is the Correction-House, commonly called Paul's Work, in which there are divers Manufacturies of Linen, Wooll and Silk, where dissolute Persons are forced to earn their Living with their Labour.

The Lady Yester's Church, was built by one of the Lady Yesters, who also left a Summ of Money for maintaining a good and able Man to preach and perform Divine Service therein.

Besides these Churches there are two Chapels in the City, that of St. Magdalen's in the Cowgate, and St. Mary's in Nedries Wind. There is another Chapel of the same Name at the Foot of the Cannon-Gate; as likewise several Meeting-Houses lately built, both in the City and Suburbs.

About the middle of the Cannon-Gate, upon the North-side of it, there is built, within these Five Years, a very beautiful Church, and a considerable Piece of Ground inclosed for a Church-Yard, by a Mortification made by Sir Thomas Moodie of Sachten-Hall, for that Purpose.

Near unto the Cathedral Church is the Parliament-House, where the three Estates of the Kingdom do convene. It stands in a great Court, the North-side whereof is bounded by the Church it self; the West-side is inclosed by the Council-House, where the Town-Council assembles; the Sourth-side is inclosed by the Sessions-House, where the Judges and Lords of Session fit to give Justice to the People. In the upper Part of this Building are the Privy-Council and Exchequer-Chambers. The rest of the South and East-side of this Court, is inclosed with the Upper and Lower Exchange, and with a Tract of most stately Buildings. Here is one of the highest Houses in the World, mounting seven Stories above the Parliament-Court, and being built upon a great Descent of the Hill, the back Part of it is as far below it, so that from the Bottom to the Top, One Stair-Case ascends 14 Stories high.

In the middle of the Court is the Statue of King Charles the II. in Brass, erected upon a stately Pedestal, at the Charge of the City of Edinburgh.

About Twenty Years ago the said Magistrates were at a vast Expence also to bring one of the best Springs in Scotland into the City, by Leaden Pipes from a Hill above Three Miles distant from it; and they have erected several stately Fountains in the middle of the High Street, to serve te Town with Water.

In Gray's Close near the Netherbow, is the Mint-House, with a large Court, adorned with most neat and convenient Buildings, for Accommodation of the Over-seers and Work-men thereunto belonging.

Upon the South-side is the College of King James the VI. founded in the Year 1580, endowed with all the Privileges of an University. It hath most large Precincts inclosed with Walls and divided into Three Courts, Two Lower and One Higher, which is equal to both the other in Largeness. These Courts or Area's are adorned on all sides with excellent Buildings. There is also a high Tower built over the great Entry.

The publick Schools are large. There is likewise a very large Common-Hall, in which Theology and the Hebrew Tongue is taught, and publick Orations made. There is a Library with all Sorts of Books and some Manuscripts. Under the Library is the King's Printing-House.

There is very good Accommodation for the Students, and neat and handsome Dwellings for the Professors; with very fine Gardens for their Reaction.

The Castle is situated at the Head of the Town to the West, where the Hill doth rise into a large Top. It is a very ’Ακροπολις ['acropolis' = 'citadel'], for it both hangs over, and commands the Town. The Rock on which the Castle is situated, is upon the South, West and North, inaccessible. The Entry to the Castle is from the Town. The chief Defence on this side is of the round Battery; at the Foot of which there is a designed Out-work, which is not yet brought to a Condition of Defence, and will add very much to the Strength of it when finished. In the Castle also is a Royal Palace of hewen Stone, where the Regalia of the Kingdom are kept. This Castle is the Chief Magazine for the Arms and Ammunition of the Nation, and hath a most pleasant Prospect to the neighbouring Fields, and to the River of Forth, from whence it is saluted by such Ships of War as come to an Anchor in Leith Road. The Governours of this Fortress since King Charles the II's Restauration, have been, the Earl of Middleton, the Dukes of Lauderdale, Queensbury and Gordon, and since their Sacred Majesties Accession to the Throne of Scotland, the Earl of Levin hath the Chief Command of it.

Heriot's Hospital is likewise within the City, Situated to the West of the publick Burial-Place. It is a Nursery for Boys, in which the Citizens Children who are poor, are brought up, under the Tutelage of a Governor, who, according to the Constitution of the Founder, is to live Single. They have likewise a Chaplain to instruct them in the Grounds of Learning, till they be fitted for the publick Schools and Colleges.

This Hospital was founded by George Heriot, Jeweller to King James the VI who was descended of the Family of Trebroun; and after he had lost two Sons by Shipwrack going from Scotland for London, where dying without Issue, February the 15th 1624 he left in Legacy to this Hospital Two Hundred Thousand Pounds Scots Money, that Youth might be maintain'd therein, and instructed in Arts and Sciences to they were of mature Age, having left the City of Edinburgh his Executors.

The Fabrick is stately like a Palace, the Statue of the Founder being erected upon the inner Frontispiece. Round about the Houses are most pleasant Gardens adorned with large Walks and pleasant Greens.

Without the Walls of the City are the Suburbs, amongst which that which lies from the Netherbow to the Abbey, called the Cannon-gate, hath the Preheminence. It is adorned with goodly Buildings and fine Gardens. Upon the North-side of it is the Tolbooth, where the Bayliffs of the same do convene for the Administration of Justice. On the South-side is a very find House belonging to the Earl of Murray, with very pleasant Gardens adjoining.

At the Lower End of this Suburb is the Abbey of Holyrood-House, founded by King David for the Monks of the Order of St. Augustine. This was consumed by Fire, and the Church only remains, in which divers of our Kings and Queens are interred.

The Royal Palace hath four Courts. The Outer Court, which is as big as all the rest, hath four Principal Entries (besides several Inlets into the adjacent Gardens) three of which are on the West, and the other on the East-side.

The Entry of the Palace is adorned with great Pillars of hewen Stone, and a find Cupola in Fashion of a Crown above it. The Forepart of the Palace is terminated by four high Towers, Two of which toward the North were erected by King James the V. and the rest by King Charles the II. The Fabrick of the Inner-Court is very stately, with Piazza's round about it, all of fine hewen Stone. From these covered Walks you have Access to the several Apartments which are most Royal and Magnificent. But above all the long Gallery is remarkable, being adorn'd with the Pictures of all the Kings of Scotland from Fergus I.

The Palace on all Hands is bounded with lovely Gardens. On the South lies the King's Park, which hath great Variety of medicinal Plants. Here also is an admirable Fountain, which through Conduits serves the whole House. His Grace the Duke of Hamilton is hereditary Keeper of this Palace.

Who was Robert Sibbald?

Back to top   NLS Home | Digital gallery