Edinburgh (Gaelic: Dùn Èideann) is the capital of Scotland located in the Central Belt region of the country. With a population of approximately 450,000 (1 million in the city region), Edinburgh fizzes with a cosmopolitan yet uniquely Scottish atmosphere. Old volcanoes ensure a dramatic natural setting, with the imposing castle atop one. Beneath its guard, the city combines medieval relics, Georgian grandeur and a powerful layer of modern life with contemporary avant-garde. Medieval palaces, Gothic churches and fascinating historical buildings rub shoulders with the best of modern architecture, such as the Houses of Scottish Parliament and the refurbished National Museum of Scotland. Variously dubbed "Auld Reekie" or "Athens of the North", but usually just plain "Emmbruh", it hosts great restaurants, shops, pubs, wild and mild clubs, and an unrivalled programme of city festivals throughout the year. Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year, kicks off the festivities; August sees the Tattoo, the International Festival and the Festival Fringe – the world's largest arts festival. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1995. In 2004, Edinburgh became the first member of the UNESCO Creative Cities initiative when it was designated a City of Literature.
This was an exciting place to be 300-350 million years ago, as volcanoes raged and flared across the region. The biggest was what we now call Arthur's Seat, with smaller cones at Castle Rock, Calton Hill, and elsewhere. Then they fizzled out and started to be buried by other rock layers. Much later came the Ice Ages, the last some 20,000 years ago. Vast glaciers from the west scoured away the surface, but where they hit Castle Rock they had to divide and flow around. They left the Rock intact with a scooped-out hollow to its north, west and south, and a tail of stone debris dumped in its lee to the east. This created an obvious defensible spot for early settlement. By the 12th century Edinburgh was the chief city of Scotland; the Old Town grew up with the Castle at its head, the Royal Mile stretching down the debris tail, and Holyrood Palace at its foot.
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