Edinburgh Castle is exactly what you would expect a Scottish castle to look like -- standing high on a peak and hard as a rock, with stone walls and ramparts rising out of a volcanic crag. The foundation rock of Edinburgh Castle was cut sheer on three sides by ancient glaciers, creating a natural defensive position that has served as a fortress since the Bronze Age.

The earliest written records document the Northumbrian king Edwin building defenses on this site in the seventh century. Since then, Edinburgh Castle has been expanded and rebuilt numerous times, in accordance with the course of war and the needs of the army.

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Edinburgh Castle holds a military fortress, royal residence, prisons, and a history that ranges from royal births to brutal murders.
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The castle walls encompass a military fortress, a royal residence, prisons, and a history
that ranges from royal births to brutal murders. See more pictures of famous landmarks.

The castle dominates Edinburgh, and in turn it offers spectacular views across the city. Visitors approach on the Esplanade, a parade ground where the stirring summer Military Tattoo is performed. They enter a gate guarded by statues of Scottish resistance hero William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, whose military campaign reestablished Scotland as a separate kingdom. Above the gate is inscribed the Latin royal motto, Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, which can translate as, "No one attacks me and gets away with it."

Despite the castle's military atmosphere, there is also sanctity here -- in a 12th-century chapel built to honor the saintly Queen Margaret, renowned for her charity to beggars. The simple, spare place of worship probably looks much as it did in her time.

History was written in the palace area of the castle, in a modest chamber where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to the son who would become James VI of Scotland and James I of England. Mary came to the castle for this event because of its symbolic role as the seat (although not the residence) of Scottish royalty.

Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, RussiaPyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico


To learn more about other landmarks and vacation destinations, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Camarillo Dunn Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.