A brand new exhibition exploring the dramatic events that Edinburgh Castle endured during the Wars of Independence was officially opened today.
‘Fight for the Castle’ focusses on the historic stronghold’s many sieges as it changed hands between the Scots and English several times from 1286 to 1356. The castle is the most besieged in Britain.
Housed in the castle’s 19th century Argyle Tower, the exhibition sits above the Portcullis Gate, where the entrance to the castle has been since prehistory. The gateway itself was the scene of a siege in 1341.
The £332,000 project has been delivered under Historic Environment Scotland’s Investment Plan, which identified 20 properties prioritised for investment to improve their condition and enhance the visitor experience.
It is the first new permanent exhibition to open at Edinburgh Castle since the Prisons of War in 2002.
The exhibition comprises a highly atmospheric, multi-layered display presented around a 14-foot-tall, sculptural siege engine – representing what is believed to have been the first use of these fearsome weapons in Scotland during the siege of the castle in 1296.
Projected images and animations fill the space, telling the story of the castle’s fortunes from the death of Alexander III after a banquet at the castle in 1286, until the return of David II at the end of the Second War of Independence in 1356, when he began rebuilding the castle as a home fit for a king.
Designed for a multi-lingual audience, the story is told using sound and light, images and real objects. Short, simple text provides an historical timeline. For those with little time or no English, the story of the castle changing hands on several occasions is summarised in a single captivating animation.
Medieval objects found within the castle’s walls are displayed throughout, ranging from a 14.5kg trebuchet ball to the tiny spherical remains of frozen sparks from the smithy set up in the castle in 1335.
Historic Environment Scotland Chief Executive Alex Paterson was joined by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop on a tour of the exhibition, which was completed at the beginning of the month.
Alex Paterson said: ‘We’ve delivered something completely different for the ‘Fight for the Castle’ exhibition – an immersive and atmospheric experience that we hope will both inform and inspire visitors through sound, light and projected imagery.
‘Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most-visited paid-for attraction, with over two million people passing over the castle’s drawbridge in the last financial year. As visitor numbers continue to grow year on year, we’re continuously looking for ways to enhance the visitor experience.’
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: ‘The ‘Fight for the Castle’ exhibition offers an exciting insight into the fascinating history of our country during the Wars of Independence. I am confident that, by combining innovation, entertainment and tradition, the exhibition will manage to attract and educate visitors who are keen to discover more about Scotland’s glorious past.
‘I am pleased that we were able to contribute to the delivery of this exhibition through our funding of Historic Environment Scotland’s Investment Plan. HES’s investment into our historic sites and wider contribution to promoting Scotland’s culture and diverse heritage assets helped boost the Scottish economy by £528 million in 2017.’
The Argyle Tower ‘Fight for the Castle’ exhibition comes as minor works continue on the Edinburgh Castle Royal Palace’s ‘Royal Line of Mary Queen of Scots’ display – a new depiction of the family tree linking the portraits hanging in one of the Scottish royal family’s principal residences. The exhibition is now open to visitors.
A refurbishment of the Gatehouse Suite above the main entrance has also been completed to attract additional corporate events – which now include hot food for functions – at Edinburgh Castle, while improved visitor amenities were installed near Crown Square at the beginning of the year.
Entrance to the new exhibition is included in the admission price, with tickets available for purchase from the Edinburgh Castle website.