Edinburgh Castle, view from the Elephant House

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Edinburgh Castle, view from the Elephant House ( 480x640 )
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Edinburgh Castle is an ancient castle that dominates the skyline of Edinburgh. It lies atop the volcanic rock called Castle Rock. It is the second most visited tourist attraction in Great Britain (Tower of London being the first one), with over a million visitors annually. Besides having the historical value, there is a beautiful panoramic view from the castle. Precisely at one pm there is so called One O’Clock Gun, fired every day except Sunday.

An early reference to occupation of the site of the Castle can be found as early as the mid-second century AD. The first written document dates back to the 11th century. However, at that time Dunfermline rather than Edinburgh was the primary royal residence. The first meeting of the Scottish Parliament occurred at the castle around 1140 and it seems there were large buildings occupying the rock at this time. Most of them were made of timber, but two of stone. One preserves till nowadays St. Margaret's Chapel. It is a tiny Norman building, the oldest in all Edinburgh. To build the castle as we see it now took many centuries. The very last building so far was added in 2008 (the ticket office).

The castle is divided into three areas, or "wards", separated by gates. In front of the castle is a long sloping forecourt known as the Esplanade. It is upon this Esplanade that the Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place annually over a period of three weeks in August.

Lower Ward is the first part of the Castle complex that visitors can see. Some of its parts have been added quite recently (comparing to the age of the castle), e.g. gatehouse in 1888, the statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace in 1929 or the abovementioned ticket office.

The Portcullis Gate that leads to the Middle Ward was built after the Lang Siege of 1571–73 to replace the round Constable's Tower, which was destroyed in the siege. Besides other parts (e.g. St Margaret’s Well), the National War Museum of Scotland is located here. It forms part of the National Museums of Scotland. The Museum covers Scottish military history over the past 400 years, and includes a wide range of military artefacts, such as uniforms, medals and weapons.

The Upper Ward occupies the highest part of the Castle Rock, and is entered from the Middle Ward via the late 17th-century Foog's Gate. There is abovementioned St Margaret’s Chapel located here as well as the 15th century siege gun Mons Meg, Forewall and Half Moon Batteries and Crown Square with the Royal Palace. There are the Royal apartments that include a tiny room in which Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI of Scotland and James 1 of England. The ancient Honours of Scotland - the Crown, the Sceptre and the Sword of State - are on view in the Crown Room. The Great Hall (the chief place of state assembly in the Castle), Queen Anne Building or the Scottish National War Memorial are other parts of the Crown Square worthy to mention.

The main function of the Edinburgh Castle nowadays is to be a tourist attraction. It is run and administered by Historic Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Government. Castle still continues to have a strong connection with the Army, and is one of the few ancient castles that still have a military garrison, albeit for largely ceremonial and administrative purposes. It has become a symbol of Edinburgh.
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