Megan’s UK diary: Edinburgh’s New Town & old maps

Edinburgh’s New Town, which was built between 1765 and 1850ish, is a very orderly, Georgian part of the city, with a grid road system completely at odds with the organically higgledy-piggledy nature of the Old Town. Up until the C18th almost everyone lived squished into the tenements up in the Old Town, as that was the place considered safe from outside attack because it was within the city walls. (Safety from germs, disease and foul smells, however, was not to be found within the walls.)

Only in the second half of the C18th was it finally felt to be safe enough to expand outside the city walls. So the New Town began to be built, and it has since been hailed as a masterpiece of city planning. The wealthier accordingly moved out of the Old Town en masse, helping to thin out that overly populated area.

The Edinburgh Book Festival is a contained festival within the broader Edinburgh Festival, and all talks and discussions are held within Charlotte Square, which is located in the heart of the New Town.

During the Festival Charlotte Square is given over to various tents and these tents house the talks, a coffee shop, and 2 bookshops. A covered walkway surrounds a central grass area filled with umbrellas and deck chairs that each boast a bookish quote, like “Don’t pay attention to her. She reads a lot” and “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read”.

11_-On-the-Map

I think I enjoyed my first talk the most of the three I attended. It was a presentation by Simon Garfield on “How Maps Define our World” (and I love maps). Coincidentally, the map I know better than any other is the one of Scotland, as when I lived in digs my one roommate (a McGregor) posted a map of Scotland on the back of the toilet room door, so for 5 years my time in there was spent memorising various firths, lochs and Hebridean islands!

One point Garfield made was that maps used to have a more personal edge, revealing conjecture, belief, and worldview. Nowadays they’re about science and accuracy, and as such are rather homogenous. The only ‘personal’ aspect I can find in modern world maps is the placing of one’s own continent at the centre of the map.

In days of yore, however, elephants and ostriches could be drawn to fill in spaces in Africa where nothing else was known, and heaven and hell could be inserted above a parcel of land, showcasing the theology of the cartographer.

Incidentally, California was drawn as an island for two centuries. It is still rather a world to itself at times.

I really enjoyed this modern (but less scientific) map that Garfield showed of London:

~

For other travel posts, go to Lindisfarne: A Holy Island, Wanderlust and the Amalfi Coast, and How to ruin a pleasant morning jog in the bush.

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