Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Documenting a City

The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site contains approximately 1700 structures of architectural and historical significance. The density of this highly active urban center created a challenge for digital documentation, one that was overcome through multiple periods of field work to capture key areas throughout 2012-2014. The data capture of this extensive city allows for unique animations of entire streetscapes and buildings to assist in city planning and ongoing management. Additional benefits of this data for the City of Edinburgh are applications for virtual tourism and promotion. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh joins 9 other heritage sites in the Scottish Ten, an ambitious five-year project using cutting edge technologies to create accurate 3D models of Scotland’s five World Heritage Sites and five international heritage sites.

Building a Medieval City

Near the shores of the North Sea from the moss-green plains rise two rocky outcrops into the skyline. Long before written accounts or before the Romans drew their attention north, these two outcrops, Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat, were already a central location for settlement and defense.

Since the Roman invasion, each following cultural expansion left its mark, adding to the unique character and importance of a town that grew from citadel to city. Beginning with the Roman road that would become Princes Street, the Anglo-Saxons renamed it from Eidyn to Edinburgh and built St. Cuthbert’s church. Edinburgh would quickly increase in churches with the building of St. Margaret’s Chapel and the Holyrood Abbey.

Throughout Edinburgh’s history, wars with England were frequent. King David II was forced to rebuild the city in the 1360s, adding a fortified castle on the peak of Castle Rock. Yet, despite these continuous wars, Edinburgh thrived as a fortified city on its rocky outcrop with an expanding town of dense housing within its walls and of craftsmen, tradesmen, and merchants outside its walls.

Building a Victorian City

The success of Edinburgh reached a breaking point during the 16th and 17th centuries. The rocky outcrop could no longer hold the rapidly expanding population. Living in and amongst waste and refuse, plague and disease swept through the city multiple times.

For the Enlightenment era of the 18th and 19th centuries, the gentle slopes of Barefoot’s Park to the north of Old Town was ideally suited for the needed expansion. To emphasize the progressive and rational mindedness of the time, the city design fell to a young architect named James Craig after winning a design competition. In his 1766 plan, Craig incorporated a Neo-Classical style city within a grid of straight streets, lined with manicured trees and rows of grand, elegant buildings.

At one end was St. Andrew Square, while on the other was St. George Square, later to be called Charlotte Square after the queen. Edinburgh gave itself the title of “Athens of the North,” as a focal point of Scottish Enlightenment.


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