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Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century. It has two distinct areas: the Old Town, dominated by a medieval fortress; and the neoclassical New Town, whose development from the 18th century onwards had a far-reaching influence on European urban planning. The harmonious juxtaposition of these two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, is what gives the city its unique character.

Vieille ville et Nouvelle ville d'Edimbourg

Capitale de l'Écosse depuis le XVe siècle, Édimbourg offre le double visage d'une vieille ville dominée par une forteresse médiévale et d'une ville nouvelle néoclassique dont l'aménagement, à partir du XVIIIe siècle, exerça une profonde influence sur l'urbanisme européen. Le voisinage harmonieux de ces deux ensembles urbains si contrastés, riches chacun en bâtiments de grande valeur, confère à la ville son caractère unique.

مدينتا ادينبرة القديمة والجديدة

تقدّم مدينة ادينبرة  التي اصبحت عاصمة اسكتلنده في القرن الخامس عشر الوجه المزدوج لمدينة قديمة تشرف عليها قلعة من القرون الوسطى ومدينة جديدة نيوكلاسيكية خلّف تنظيمها منذ القرن الثامن عشر تأثيراً عميقاً في التتنظيم المدني الأوروبي. ويضفي هذا التجاور المتناغم لمدينتين شديدتي التناقض وغنيتين بأبنية قيّمة طابعاً فريداً على المدينة.

source: UNESCO/ERI



source: UNESCO/ERI

Старый город и Новый город в Эдинбурге

Эдинбург, начиная с XV в., является столицей Шотландии. Здесь находятся две ярко выраженных территории: Старый город с доминирующей над ним средневековой крепостью и Новый город в стиле классицизма, развивающийся с XVIII в. и оказавший большое влияние на градостроительство в Европе. Гармоничное соединение этих двух контрастирующих исторических территорий, имеющих большое число выдающихся зданий, придает городу уникальность.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Ciudad vieja y ciudad nueva de Edimburgo

Capital de Escocia desde el siglo XV, Edimburgo ofrece la doble faz de su ciudad antigua, dominada por una fortaleza medieval, y de su ciudad nueva, construida en estilo neoclásico a partir del siglo XVIII. El trazado de esta última ejerció una gran influencia  en el urbanismo de otras ciudades europeas. La abundancia de edificios de gran valor en estas dos zonas históricas tan diferentes, así como su armoniosa yuxtaposición, confieren a la ciudad su carácter único.

source: UNESCO/ERI


source: NFUAJ

Oude en Nieuwe stad Edinburgh

Sinds de 15e eeuw is Edinburgh de hoofdstad van Schotland. Het heeft twee verschillende gebieden: de Oude stad, gedomineerd door een middeleeuwse vesting en de neoklassieke Nieuwe stad. De architectuurkwaliteit hiervan zette de standaard voor Schotland en daarbuiten en oefende in de 18e en 19e eeuw grote invloed uit op de ontwikkeling van de stedelijke architectuur en stedenbouw in heel Europa. Het contrast tussen de organische middeleeuwse Oude stad en de geplande Georgische Nieuwe stad laat een in Europa ongeëvenaarde helderheid van stedelijke structuur zien. De twee contrasterende stadsgezichten liggen harmonieus naast elkaar, verbonden door het stedelijk viaduct North Bridge en de Mound.

Source: unesco.nl

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© Valerio Li Vigni
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The remarkable juxtaposition of two clearly articulated urban planning phenomena. The contrast between the organic medieval Old Town and the planned Georgian New Town of Edinburgh, Scotland, provides a clarity of urban structure unrivalled in Europe. The juxtaposition of these two distinctive townscapes, each of exceptional historic and architectural interest, which are linked across the landscape divide, the "great arena" of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley Valley, by the urban viaduct, North Bridge, and by the Mound, creates the outstanding urban landscape.

The Old Town stretches along a high ridge from the Castle on its dramatically situated rock down to the Palace of Holyrood. Its form reflects the burgage plots of the Canongate, founded as an "abbatial burgh" dependent on the Abbey of Holyrood, and the national tradition of building tall on the narrow "tofts" or plots separated by lanes or "closes" which created some of the world's tallest buildings of their age, the dramatic, robust, and distinctive tenement buildings. It contains many 16th and 17th century merchants' and nobles' houses such as the early 17th century restored mansion house of Gladstone's Land which rises to six storeys, and important early public buildings such as the Canongate Tolbooth and St Giles Cathedral.

The Old Town is characterized by the survival of the little-altered medieval "fishbone" street pattern of narrow closes, wynds, and courts leading off the spine formed by the High Street, the broadest, longest street in the Old Town, with a sense of enclosed space derived from its width, the height of the buildings lining it, and the small scale of any breaks between them.

The New Town, constructed between 1767 and 1890 as a collection of seven new towns on the glacial plain to the north of the Old Town, is framed and articulated by an uncommonly high concentration of planned ensembles of ashlar-faced, world-class, neo-classical buildings, associated with renowned architects, including John and Robert Adam (1728-92), Sir William Chambers (1723-96), and William Playfair (1790-1857). Contained and integrated with the townscape are gardens, designed to take full advantage of the topography, while forming an extensive system of private and public open spaces. The New Town is integrated with large green spaces. It covers a very large area of 3,288 ha, is consistent to an unrivalled degree, and survives virtually intact.

Some of the finest public and commercial monuments of the New-classical revival in Europe survive in the city, reflecting its continuing status as the capital of Scotland since 1437, and a major centre of thought and learning in the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, with its close cultural and political links with mainland Europe.

The successive planned extensions from the first New Town, and the high quality of the architecture, set standards for Scotland and beyond, and exerted a major influence on the development of urban architecture and town planning throughout Europe.

The dramatic topography of the Old Town combined with the planned alignments of key buildings in both the Old and the New Town, results in spectacular views and panoramas and an iconic skyline.

The renewal and revival of the Old Town in the late 19th century, and the adaptation of the distinctive Baronial style of building for use in an urban environment, influenced the development of conservation policies for urban environments.

Criterion (ii): The successive planned extensions of the New Town, and the high quality of its architecture, set standards for Scotland and beyond, and exerted a major influence on the development of urban architecture and town planning throughout Europe, in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Criterion (iv): The Old and New Towns together form a dramatic reflection of significant changes in European urban planning, from the inward looking, defensive walled medieval city of royal palaces, abbeys and organically developed burgage plots in the Old Town, through the expansive formal Enlightenment planning of the 18th and 19th centuries in the New Town, to the 19th century rediscovery and revival of the Old Town with its adaptation of a distinctive Baronial style of architecture in an urban setting.


The property encompasses significant town-planning components, including layout, buildings, open spaces and views, that demonstrate the distinctiveness between the organic growth of the Old Town and the planned terraces and squares of the New Town with the wide landscaped valley between. Overall the property forms a remarkably consistent and coherent entity which has developed and adapted over time. It has largely preserved its skyline and extensive views in and out of the property, although as with any modern, living city these have altered and developed over time, while preserving the key attributes of Outstanding Universal Value within the property. The vulnerability of the skyline and the views in and out of the property has been addressed by the introduction of a Skyline Policy.


The level of authenticity in Edinburgh is high. Individually the high-quality buildings of all dates have been conserved to a high standard and the layout of streets and squares maintain their intactness. The property also continues to retain its historic role as the administrative and cultural capital of Scotland, while remaining a vibrant economic centre. 

Protection and management requirements

World Heritage properties in Scotland are protected through the following legislation. The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 and The Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 provide a framework for local and regional planning policy and act as the principal primary legislation guiding planning and development in Scotland. Additionally, individual buildings, monuments and areas of special archaeological or historic interest are designated and protected under The Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 and the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act. The Old Town, New Town, Dean Village and West End Conservation Areas provide adequate protection by covering the majority of the World Heritage property, whilst around 75% of buildings within the property are category A, B or C listed buildings.

The Scottish Historic Environment Policy (SHEP) is the primary policy guidance on the protection and management of the historic environment in Scotland. Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) sits alongside the SHEP and includes the Government’s national planning policy on the historic environment. It provides for the protection of World Heritage properties by considering the impact of development on the Outstanding Universal Value, authenticity and integrity. Local policies specifically protecting the property are contained within The City of Edinburgh Local Plan and cite the Management Plan as a material consideration for decisions on planning matters. The immediate setting of the property is protected by a Skyline Policy that has been adopted by City of Edinburgh Council. This defines key views across the city with the aim of providing planning control that will safeguard them. This control of tall buildings that might impact on the city centre provides appropriate protection to the setting of the property, safeguarding its world-renown silhouette and views from the property outwards to such crucial topographic features as Arthur’s Seat and the Firth of Forth. The Skyline policy combined with existing listed buildings and conservation area designations provides a comprehensive and sophisticated tool to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. This method of protection is being monitored on an ongoing basis.

Management of the property is indirectly influenced by a large number of organisations, communities and interest groups. The Management Plan was the subject of detailed stakeholder engagement, the results of which informed its vision, objectives and actions. The property is a living capital city centre. It has a rich cultural and intellectual life, which is part of its Outstanding Universal Value and which is vital to sustain. This rich cultural life, in such a magnificent setting, attracts tourists in great numbers. An Edinburgh Tourism Strategy acknowledges the value of World Heritage status in its strategic priorities for managing a world class city.

Historic Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council work closely on the management of the property. Edinburgh World Heritage was established by the City of Edinburgh Council and Historic Scotland through a merger between the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee and the Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust. Its role includes promoting the property, grant dispersal and community engagement across the property. It is also a key partner in the execution of the Management Plan. The World Heritage Site Co-ordinator is responsible for coordinating the implementation of the Management Plan.

Long Description

The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh are a remarkable blend of the urban phenomena of organic medieval growth and 18th- and 19th-century town planning. The successive planned extensions of the New Town and the high quality of the architecture set standards for Scotland and beyond.

Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century, and it has two distinct areas: the Old Town, dominated by a medieval fortress built by King David I in the 12th century, and the neoclassical New Town, whose development from the 18th century onwards had a far-reaching influence on European urban planning.

During wars against the English in the 14th century, just one building was spared from destruction: the Chapel of St Margaret, built by King Malcolm III, within the destroyed medieval military fortress. The Castle Rock bore the core of the town, with the neo-Gothic tower of the Tolbooth Church of St John and the tower of the Church of St Giles. In the palace King James VI of Scotland and James I of England, son of Mary Stuart, was born in 1556.

Work on the New Town began in 1752 with the project of the architects John Adam and James Craig, consisting of a rectangular plan with a residential function and a commercial zone in Prince's Street. In 1789, Robert Adam planned the Old College, the University of Edinburgh, which was completed by William Playfair, and extended to an enlarged profile by Sir Rowand Anderson, in 1879. The town was subsequently expanded to the north, when in 1822 Gillespie Graham harmonized the two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, to give the city its unique character.

Holyrood House, the scene of many important events of Scottish history, was originally the guest-house of Holyrood Abbey. It was transformed into a royal residence by James IV, and is at present the official residence of the queen in Scotland. Canongate Tolbooth is a very interesting 16th-century building, the former seat of justice of the Burgh of Canongate; it is easily identified by its imposing turreted steeple and clock.

Edinburgh has many museums and galleries, including the Royal Museum, an impressive early Italian Renaissance palazzo facade containing a great hall of wooden ribbed construction designed on Crystal Palace principles, together with smaller halls of similar design. Scotland's two major museums, situated in the heart of Edinburgh, house rich international collections. The National Gallery of Scotland and the neoclassical Art Gallery, with blind walls with shallow pilasters punctuated by Ionic porticoes, was originally designed as two buildings to house the Academy as well as the National Gallery.

Historical Description

Edinburgh's origins as a settlement extend back into prehistory, when its castle rock was fortified, and it may have served as a royal palace in the early historic period. The settlement that grew up was made a royal burgh by King David I (who also founded the nearby Abbey of Holyrood) in around 1125. The separate burgh of canongate, founded c 1140, has long been incorporated within Edinburgh. It was just one of the newly chartered towns of the 12th century which set the country's political and economic development on a new plane, but by the late 15th century it was the capital of Scotland. It had become a great architectural symbol of nationhood for Scotland.

The Old Town grew along the wide main street stretching from the castle on its rock to the medieval abbey and royal palace of Holyrood. The town was walled from the 15th century onwards. lt suffered badly during the English invasion of 1544, and most of the earlier buildings date from the rebuilding after this event. However, the later 16th century saw a steady increase in trade; by the early 17th century much of the wealth of the nation had come into the hands of the Edinburgh merchant elite, which resulted in considerable new building. The nobility also built town houses, which also contributed to the high quality of the domestic architecture of this period. From as early as the 16th century building control was enforced through the Dean of Guild: for example, as a precaution against fire all roofs had to be of tile or slate from 1621, and in 1674 this was extended to building facades, which had henceforth to be in stone.

At the end of the 19th century there had been a withdrawal from the Old Town as a result of the growth of the New Town. In 1892 Sir Patrick Geddes proposed that it should be regenerated by attracting back to it the university, the bourgeoisie, and the intelligentsia, by converting the High Street into "a collegiate street and city comparable in its way with the magnificent High Street of Oxford and its noble surroundings." His plan involved the reuse of older buildings where they still had utility, and many buildings were restored under his direction in the Lawnmarket. Although Geddes left Edinburgh before his vision could be fully realized, but his buildings remain. More restoration work was carried out as part of Sir Patrick Abercrombie's 1949 plan, though Geddes's concept of the High Street being reoccupied for residential purposes was abandoned.

The New Town developed as a suburban residential area for the nobility and for the merchant classes. The city, the charitable trusts, and the aristocratic landowners who promoted it insisted upon the finest materials being used, since they saw it as an enduring monument. That is why ashlar facing is used almost exclusively, instead of stucco. The New Town consists, in fact, of seven successive major development, each different from but closely related to its predecessors, a continuous programme of construction from 1767 to about 1890.

The First New Town originated in the proposals of Lord Provost Drummond, published in 1752 and embodied in an Act of Parliament the following year, which envisaged the development of the City's lands to the north of the Old Town, linked by an urban viaduct, the North Bridge. The rectangular layout was the work of James Craig, redrawn after consultation with John Adam. The second New Town followed in 1801-2, planned by Robert Reid, the King•s Architect, and William Sibbald, and located to the north of the first. lt breaks away from the strictly rectangular plan with some curved terraces. The Third New Town, the work of Robert Brown from 1813 onwards, essentially continues the approach of its predecessors.

This pattern changed with the Fourth New Town, planned by William Henry Playfair. Instead of imposing a grid-iron upon the landscape, the buildings exploit the contours, view, and trees in a romantic manner. The Fifth New Town, built from 1822 on the lands of the Earl of Moray to designs by J Gillespie Graham, cleverly links the first three New Towns as a unified scheme. lt was intended to be a self-contained enclave for aristocrats and professional gentry. The Sixth New Town followed in the 1850s on Lord Provost Learmonth's Dean Estate, to the north of the water of Leith, linked since 1831-32 with queensferry on the other side of the estuary by a bridge designed by Thomas Telford. The final New Town brought the hitherto detached Raeburn estate together with the rest.

Although the original idea was that the New Town should be a purely residential suburb, it rapidly proved to be attractive to business and government, and it rapidly drew this element of the city away from the Old Town. lt was to become the location for some of the finest public and commercial monuments of the neo-classical revival in Europe. Monuments symbolic of Scotland's past were grouped together on Calton Hill, in the aspiration to build the "Athens of the North."

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation