The History of Leith

November 18, 2004

Edinburgh, Athens of the North

Edinburgh, Athens of the North

Kate Patrick explains what makes Edinburgh such a magnificent and lively city, sublimely combining the modern with the ancient.

Too well known to admit description,” was how Dr Johnson felt about the city of Edinburgh in 1775, although he is said to have acknowledged the “noble appearance” of the breadth of the streets and the loftiness of the buildings. But it’s true that because Scotland’s capital city is generally the first stop on touring agendas, there are many people who know at least a little about the place. To those of us who live and work here, Edinburgh is a city with increasingly modern dynamics that thrives within an exquisite Georgian and, in some parts, mediƦval setting. Which makes it, in short, a cracker of a place to live.
Edinburgh is, crucially, not trapped in its colourful, historical past. The modern world has arrived, in the shape of much new development in the past five years, particularly since July 1999 when Edinburgh became the home of Scotland’s first devolved parliament since 1707. Stylish smoky-glass buildings have sprung up as the Scottish headquarters of banks and insurance companies, hotels and theatres – well-conceived, coruscating additions to the architectural landscape. But what’s inescapable in Edinburgh is the way in which it is geographically defined by the once-volcanic hills on which it is built, dominated by Arthur’s Seat and the Castle Rock; as you move around the city – and the centre is best seen on foot – vistas open up from nowhere, with heart-stopping views of the sparkling waters of the Firth of Forth to the north, of fertile fields and golden beaches to the east, and towards the steeper ridges of the Pentland Hills, which circle round the south and west.

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