The History of Edinburgh's Old and New Towns

How the Scottish capital became what it is today

By CyArk

Edinburgh Castle From Afar (2019-04) by CyArkCyArk

Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century. The World Heritage Site in Edinburgh has two parts - the Old Town and the New Town  

Buildings in Edinburgh (2019-04) by CyArkCyArk

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1995, the Old and New Towns extend over 1.78 square miles and contain approximately 4,600 buildings of different types, built across a dramatic topographic setting.

St. Cuthbert's Church and Edinburgh CastleCyArk

Edinburgh has a rich cultural history and identity of significant importance for the local people. The physical fabric of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh ha been the setting for many major events in Scottish history, which strengthen the connection local and national people feel to their past.

Kay's plan of Old and New Town Edinburgh (1836)CyArk

Old Town

The old town was built on a glacial ridge during Medieval times. It contains a number of churches, high density integrated housing and commercial accommodation.

Edinburgh Castle from Grass Market (1865) by Cornell University LibraryCyArk

It has numerous iconic historic places and monuments including Edinburgh Castle, St Giles Church, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament building.

Edinburgh Castle over Brewery (2019-04) by CyArkCyArk

New Town

Edinburgh’s New Town became the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century. Numerous designers contributed to the layout of New Town throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, providing housing for those who had the resources to move out of Old Town, which was becoming increasingly crowded.  

Greyfriars kirkyard in Edinburgh (2019-04) by CyArkCyArk

The first part of New Town, the famous Charlotte Square, was designed by Robert Adam, a neoclassical architect. Most buildings are constructed from local sandstone.

Explore Edinburgh through this 3D model:

3D model flythrough of Edinburgh, From the collection of: CyArk
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Made by  Glasgow School of Art and Historic Environment Scotland

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Discover how CyArk uses 3D documentation to empower local experts.

Find out more about ICOMOS' efforts to increase engagement of cultural heritage in climate action here.

Credits: Story

Peter A Cox, ICOMOS, Managing Director, Carrig Conservation International Limited, and President, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Energy, Sustainability and Climate Change

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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