Closes were narrow alleys that drew their names from the merchants who conducted business there or the families who resided within them. In Advocate's Clsoe you could hire a lawyer. In Bakehouse Close you could purchase fresh baked bread. At night after the merchant had extinquished the lantern or candle that lite their establishment they would draw closed an iron or wooden gate to lock out the predators that trolled the city at night.
Mary King's Close is a small shop that sells souveniers, but it's also the passage way to an archaeological dig beneath the Royal Mile. In fact there is a city beneath the city.
The steep slope of the streets between the closes insured the raw sewage tosssed from chamber pots out the window each morning would be washed down hill to the Nor Lock that runs parallel to Princes Street---if it rained hard enough. If it didn't rain that day, you had to contend with the stench.
The dig beneath the street dates the buildings from the early 1500 to 1850. It was then that the tops of the buildings were demolished and vaulted ceilings constructed to hold the weight of the new buildings built atop them. The new structures sealed the older buildings and the streets around them off forever. They became a time capsule locked away forgotten, or if not forgotten, ignored until 2001 when an archaeological survey was done of the area.
Our tour was conducted by a young lady dressed in period clothes of an early 1800's maid. As she led us through the site she told us stories of the people who lived in each house. There was no need for embellishment because the lives of these real people were compelling enough. There were a few ghost stories thrown in for good measure. One about a little girl who may have been abandoned in one of the closes to protect her family from contracting the plague with which she had come down. Her name was Anne and visitors sometimes leave toys for her in the room she supposedly lived and died in.
Mary King was born at the end of the 1600's and married in 1616. She had four children. After her husband's death, she moved her family to Alexander King's Close, no relation. The name of the close gradually changed to her own when her business took off. She, and probably her children, worked as seamstresses, making sheets, pillows, napkins, and perhaps monograming them for their customers. She died in 1644 and would have been the ripe old age of 60 or a little older at her death.
Three months after her death plague hit Edinburgh, spread from Leith, a port where ships from Europe often docked. The flea infested rats that brought it to Edinburgh doors nearly decimated Leith. Nearly two-thirds of the population there died of the disease. And between a fifth and one half of Edinburgh's population died from it.
That was just a wee bit of the history we learned while looking into the abandoned homes and shops along the closes sealed for all eternity beneath the Royal Mile.
After an hour we surfaced and continued up the steep slope to Edinburgh Castle.
Edinburgh Castle truly is a fortress. Perched atop a huge steep mountain of volcanic rock in the heart of the city of Edinbugh, it looms over the landscape. Had I been in the midst of battle during the 12th or 13th century, within its walls would have been exactly where I'd have wanted to be.