There is no doubt that Edinburgh is a beautiful city. With a castle and a palace, the beautiful architecture of St. Giles Cathedral, and an extinct volcano as a backdrop; this city is a favourite of many. However, under the beautiful façade of cobblestone streets, countless pubs, and friendly faces is a dark past and a few secrets that add to the mysterious allure of this old town.
1) Witch Hunts
We all know that witch hunts were a common occurrence across Europe, and the city of Edinburgh was no exception. It didn’t take much to be accused, just a pointed finger in a public setting and you were quickly taken away to be ‘questioned’.
In the 16th century, more witch burnings were carried out in Edinburgh than anywhere else in Scotland. A cast-iron wall fountain, known as the Witches’ Well, can be found near the entrance of the castle in remembrance of more than 300 women who were burned on Castle Hill.
2) The Tolbooth Prison
This notorious prison, which also served as a tax office, is where numerous prisoners were hung. The majority of which never saw a trial.
Although this building no longer exists, a heart formed in the cobblestones outside St. Giles Cathedral marks its place. This medieval mosaic is known as the Heart of Midlothian.
It is common practice to spit in the center of this heart; out of respect for the people who were so unfairly murdered, or out of contempt for the unfair taxes demanded by the city authorities. Today it is said that spitting in the centre of the heart will bring good luck.
3) Auld Reekie
Believe it or not, this is what Edinburgh used to be named. A booming population in a tiny walled city with no plumbing- well I’m sure you can guess where the name came from. Due to this dilemma, chamber pots of each house were only allowed to be emptied once per day- in the evening. As the clock chimed windows of every house would open, and upon a quick shout of “Gardyloo” the contents of the chamber pots would be flung out the windows and into the streets below. One had better hope they were indoors during this time!
4) Burke and Hare
These two Irish immigrants are Edinburgh’s most notorious murderers. In the 1800’s a lack of cadavers for medical research prompted Dr. Robert Knox to offer payment in exchange for bodies. This need for fresh bodies sparked a series of murders. At the time of their discovery, less than a year later, Burke and Hare were held responsible for the murders of 16 individuals, though it is expected that they killed many more. Hare was granted immunity for his testimony of Burke, and as a result Burke was hung for his crimes. Today, a small wallet, made from the skin of Burke’s hand, can be found on display at the Police Information Centre on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
5) Ghosts and Spirits
With such a dark history it’s easy to understand why Edinburgh is deemed one of Europe’s most haunted cities. Supernatural sightings have been seen throughout the city. Edinburgh castle is said to host multiple ghosts, including a supernatural drummer who is said to appear before the castle is attacked. Other ghosts are said to haunt various spots around the city, including Holyrood Palace. Perhaps the most infamous ghost of Edinburgh is the McKenzie Poltergeist who is said to haunt the Covenanters Prison section of Greyfriar’s cemetery. This spirit became active in 1998 after his sealed tomb was opened by a local homeless man. The McKenzie poltergeist has a reputation for being unfriendly and violent and numerous visitors have fainted or reported injury while visiting this spooky site.
Now that you know, are you brave enough to visit?