As a tourist in Edinburgh, Scotland, you might be oblivious to what lies right under your feet. The innocuous-looking cobbled streets are not what they appear. Beneath all the hustle and bustle of the city is a series of vaults over two hundred years old. Above the ground, you can explore the city of literature. Yet, right below your feet is Edinburgh underground city of the dead.
Currently, the city of the dead is off-limits to the public. Yet, tour companies are permitted to take groups of people to walk this haunted section. Now, you can visit the underground city and see intriguing artefacts that lie within.
Why Does Edinburgh Have An Underground City?
The construction of vaults or Edinburgh underground city ended in 1788. Till the 1800s, merchants and tradesmen used these vaults as storage units. They realised the structure of the vaults was not suitable for storage rooms. The chambers built in the breaks/arches of the South Bridge were dark and damp, trapping moisture.
Soon, the merchants noticed that the excessive dampness was damaging their supplies. As a result, they abandoned the vaults and shifted their supplies elsewhere. After merchants abandoned the vaults, the criminals of Edinburgh took over them. They mostly used them for illegal activities such as gambling and alcohol fermentation.
Some rumours say that the vaults were later used by famous serial killers Burke and Hare. According to urban legend, Burke and Hare may have hidden their victim’s bodies in these halls. Then they sold the corpses to a medical school anatomist for scientific dissection. Due to these rumours, Edinburgh’s underground city is the subject of many ghost stories.
History Of Edinburgh Underground City
Hundreds of years ago, the land of Edinburgh went through a glacier sweep. This stripped the land of any soft material. The locals built a high wall to surround the city to protect the surviving soft materials. In 1513, construction of the wall ended ,and people called it the Flodden Wall.
As the Flodden Wall surrounded the city, people had to build new houses outside the wall. This would have exposed them to unwarranted outside attacks. The ground inside the wall had soft sandstone, making it easy to dig for new buildings. The Grassmarket and Princes’ Gardens represent the outer and inner sections of the wall.
In the 1700s, people started constructing bridges for crossing the roads. The dry land beneath these bridges was the perfect place to build cheap housing. As a result, the poor population turned the bridge arches into homes.
These rooms were even used as jails to hold prisoners. This tradition also ended and merchants started using them as mentioned previously. In the 20th century, Edinburgh suffered from many fires, resulting in structural damages. After these calamities, the Edinburgh underground city became unsafe for habitation.
Edinburgh Underground City And The Bubonic Plague
In 1644, the Edinburgh underground city was crawling with infected people. The alleyway, called Mary King’s Close, was the perfect habitat for infected fleas. These infected fleas were the cause of the bubonic plague. Most victims of the bubonic plague lived inside Mary King’s Close without a choice.
According to folklore, Mary King’s Close was a quarantine centre for poor people. Its location beneath the city was perfect for protecting the rich people living above ground. The people in Mary King’s Close were denied treatment and trapped in this alley.
The reality is that people living in Mary King’s Close received kind treatment from rich people. They received water and proper food rations daily. In 1645, all people were evacuated, and soon Mary King’s Close had no occupants.
Edinburgh Underground City Tour
Nowadays, different touring companies offer the Edinburgh underground city walk tours. You can use a chauffeur company to reach the tour’s starting point. Although, the chauffeur company is not responsible for your touring ticket. You can buy a ticket and explore the historical sights and underground vaults on Blair Street. Here are some of the famous tour companies you can choose from:
Luxury Tour Scotland
Mercat Tours has been operating since 1985. This touring company issues limited tickets and only takes small groups on tours. Therefore, you have to book in advance to tour with the Mercat family. Due to their groups being small, every person can enjoy and take part in the tour. You can get a total refund on ticket cancellation before 24 hours of the tour.
City of the Dead Tours
City of the Dead Tours provides tours in all the spooky and underground places of Edinburgh. It usually covers graveyards, underground vaults, and St. Giles Church. These tours are not suitable for children, weak-hearted or old people. City of the Dead Tours uses actors and players to make the tour scarier.
Mary King’s Close
Mary King’s Close has been a part of Edinburgh underground city since the 17th century. Above the ground, you can find it under the name of Royal Mile. During the bubonic plague, it was a place to quarantine the plagued population. Later, it got abandoned and bricked up.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Mary King’s Close
Mary King was a famous merchant in the 1600s. The alley Mary King’s Close shares her name. This narrow street was a marketplace and residential area and used to be a hub of criminals back in the day. As Mary King’s Close is underground, it was dark, full of human waste, rats, and rodents. Poor living conditions were one of the reasons the plague was more severe in this area. Even today, you can see the sewage lines on the side of Mary King’s Close.
Recommended Touring Companies For A Tour Of Mary King’s Close
If you want to see the Mary King’s Close by yourself, you should check out these top touring companies:
- Get Your Guide: This touring company gives you a complete insight into Mary King’s Close. You can learn about people who lived and worked there.
- Viator: It offers a 1-hour tour beneath the Royal Mile. In this tour, you will see people dressed in costumes to give you an insight into old times.
- Real Mary Kings Close: This touring company provides a tour of Mary King’s Close on demand. So, you need to book your tickets before they run out.
How Long Is The Real Mary King’s Close Tour?
A complete guided tour of Mary King’s Close will take almost an hour. As the tour is underground, you will be walking for the entire tour. Some Mary King’s Close tours even last for two hours. You can select the one that is more suitable.
Luxury Tours Of Edinburgh’s Underground City
A luxury tour provider helps you explore the Edinburgh underground city in comfort. The luxury chauffeur company will pick you up from your hotel. Then they will give an elaborate tour of the aboveground and underground spaces. You can take private tours, which are more customised than touring in a group.
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