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Once Upon a Time in Edinburgh

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       "Half a capital and half a country town, the whole city leads a double existence," Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish writer, wrote of Edinburgh in 1878. "It has long trances of the one and flashes of the other... it is half alive and half a monumental marble."              On Sept. 18, Scots voted to remain within the United Kingdom in the country's first-ever independence referendum. Had the results been different, Edinburgh would have become more than Stevenson ever imagined. The city would have been the capital of Western Europe's first 21st-century state, the seat of an independent government serving around 5 million people, setting taxes, directing a military.              Scotland will likely gain greater autonomy from Westminster in the coming years, even if it remains within the United Kingdom. But Stevenson's description of Scotland's capital should withstand any political change. Edinburgh will remain a city of marble, a city of old buildings and old streets. As it's grown -- from the busy seat of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century, to an overcrowded commercial center in the 19th, to the financial and political hub of today -- Edinburgh has continued to turn around a slowly-changing historic backbone.              Here, Foreign Policy looks back at the steady monuments and shifting streets of a city that on Thursday made a watershed decision.              Above, Edinburgh Castle, once an important military garrison and now a major tourist attraction, is pictured here in the late 19th century.

 

"Half a capital and half a country town, the whole city leads a double existence," Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish writer, wrote of Edinburgh in 1878. "It has long trances of the one and flashes of the other... it is half alive and half a monumental marble."

 

On Sept. 18, Scots voted to remain within the United Kingdom in the country's first-ever independence referendum. Had the results been different, Edinburgh would have become more than Stevenson ever imagined. The city would have been the capital of Western Europe's first 21st-century state, the seat of an independent government serving around 5 million people, setting taxes, directing a military.

 

Scotland will likely gain greater autonomy from Westminster in the coming years, even if it remains within the United Kingdom. But Stevenson's description of Scotland's capital should withstand any political change. Edinburgh will remain a city of marble, a city of old buildings and old streets. As it's grown -- from the busy seat of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century, to an overcrowded commercial center in the 19th, to the financial and political hub of today -- Edinburgh has continued to turn around a slowly-changing historic backbone.

 

Here, Foreign Policy looks back at the steady monuments and shifting streets of a city that on Thursday made a watershed decision.

 

Above, Edinburgh Castle, once an important military garrison and now a major tourist attraction, is pictured here in the late 19th century.

St. Gile's Cathedral, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, ca. 1909. Construction on the church, which is dedicated to Edinburgh's patron saint, began in 1385.      Library of Congress

St. Gile's Cathedral, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, ca. 1909. Construction on the church, which is dedicated to Edinburgh's patron saint, began in 1385.

Library of Congress

Children play in Lochend Close, in Edinburgh's Old Town, ca. 1920.      Library of Congress

Children play in Lochend Close, in Edinburgh's Old Town, ca. 1920.

Library of Congress

Advertisements on a tenement building near Edinburgh's St. Leonard's Street, southeast of St. Giles', in 1929. The neighborhood underwent large-scale renovations and clearances in the following decades; this building was slated for destruction.      National Library of Scotland

Advertisements on a tenement building near Edinburgh's St. Leonard's Street, southeast of St. Giles', in 1929. The neighborhood underwent large-scale renovations and clearances in the following decades; this building was slated for destruction.

National Library of Scotland

Apartments and shops near St. Leonard's, 1929.      National Library of Scotland

Apartments and shops near St. Leonard's, 1929.

National Library of Scotland

A late nineteenth-century view of Edinburgh's Palace of Holyroodhouse (background left), the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, where the Queen spends a week each year.      Library of Congress

A late nineteenth-century view of Edinburgh's Palace of Holyroodhouse (background left), the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, where the Queen spends a week each year.

Library of Congress

Edinburgh's Canongate Tolbooth, built in 1591, is shown here in a late 19th-century photograph.      Library of Congress 

Edinburgh's Canongate Tolbooth, built in 1591, is shown here in a late 19th-century photograph.

Library of Congress 

A lantern and entryway in Weir's Close,1906, in a photograph by the   Boston-born Alvin Langdon Coburn. Stevenson's description of Edinburgh   deeply influenced Coburn's extensive photographs of the city; in his   1966 autobiography, Coburn wrote, ""For over fifty years I have followed  lovingly in [Stevenson's] footsteps, endeavouring to see [Edinburgh] as  I thought he saw it." Some of those footsteps are now untraceable:   Weir's Close disappeared in renovations later in the century and no   longer exists.      Library of Congress

A lantern and entryway in Weir's Close,1906, in a photograph by the Boston-born Alvin Langdon Coburn. Stevenson's description of Edinburgh deeply influenced Coburn's extensive photographs of the city; in his 1966 autobiography, Coburn wrote, ""For over fifty years I have followed lovingly in [Stevenson's] footsteps, endeavouring to see [Edinburgh] as I thought he saw it." Some of those footsteps are now untraceable: Weir's Close disappeared in renovations later in the century and no longer exists.

Library of Congress

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