The Real Mary King's Close ***

Region: Edinburgh

In this region: <<<<<


During the 17th century, Edinburgh’s Old Town suffered major overcrowding. Houses were packed in more and more tightly, and grew upwards to eight stories high. A web of narrow side streets called closes led off the Royal Mile, which could be locked up at each end at night to keep the undesirables out.

The richest people lived in the top floors where the buildings got the most light – and the least stench of sewage. The poorest lived in the dark, squalid ground floors, penned in with cattle and with open sewers right outside their front doors. Most closes were demolished or redeveloped into offices or apartments over the years, but Mary King’s Close had a different fate.

The 17th century city authorities had decided to build a grand new Royal Exchange. There was just one small problem – the streets of houses that were already there. But rather than knocking these houses down, they took the top floors off and used the lower floors as the foundations for the Royal Exchange.

Mary King’s Close was covered over and swallowed up into the building’s basement. The sloping ground meant the houses fronting onto the Royal Mile were destroyed, but further down the close whole houses were buried in tact. Even though it was underground, the close wasn’t totally abandoned. Some residents didn’t want to leave and carried on running businesses in this strange half-buried world.

The "Real Mary King’s Close" is a 1 hour underground guided tour of the now hidden streets and homes from 17th Century Edinburgh. Visiting on your own is not possible.

Where? High Street, 2 Warriston’s Close, Edinburgh

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