The Town beneath the Town -

Mary King's Close


You see them everywhere - these 'Closes'. Somehow we all the time walk past them. For example 'Old Fishmarket Close'. Well, in former times fish was transported there, just a normal passage. Like all the others - isn't it? They do look quite harmless.


Fishmarket Close

Stretching your arms, you get stuck.


In medieval Edinburgh there were hundreds of such lanes. Houses up to twelve storey closed out the daylight. People lived crammed. Quality was living in the upper buildings, the lower part held small shops, pubs, and brothels and those of course who had no abode.


Many of these Closes - they were closed at night, therefor the name - have a gruesome history, especially Mary King's Close. Here the folks lived together with the cattle which was slaughtered at site. Between dirt and litter, excrements and rats. Small wonder that the Plague found its victims here...


Highstreet Edinburgh

First we walk down the Hight Street to the entrance of the Town beneath the Town as it is called - or also 'Plague Road'. For a long time this lane was closed. In 1994 it was re-opened for the first time. This Close may be called the most terrifying place of the town.

Mary King was quite a successful business women in the 17th century, daughter of the wealthy advocat Alexander King. She had no relation to Queen Mary although in the outer room beside unlikeable acid drops also books about Mary Queen of Scots are sold.

The Pest (from Latin pestis = epidemic) is a highly infectious disease transmitted by ratfleas. Against the Plague no raven masks helped and no leather capes which were worn by doctors in their fight against the epidemic.

By the way, there is a Government building beside Mary King's Close. Parts of the former Plague Town are beneath it and as the British are a little bit paranoid, photographing is not permitted in the two storeys deep cellar.

Mary King's Close

Of course the town had no running water or toilets. Two times a day the excrements were poured down into the close. Those living in the lane just were in bad luck.

Die Peststadt

For many months the Plague raged, more than half of the population died. Mary King's Close was regarded as the cause and consquently the lane was bricked up on both sides. It is not really known if also the inhabitants were walled in but it is said they were and died miserably. Their souls found no peace and to this day are haunting in the remnants of Mary King's Close.

Furthermore there is a story about a father who had the Plague and returned to the Town beneath the Town to bid farewell to his family. The death sentence for all of them.

The rooms are tiny, looking like cattle sheds. We go into one of these hovels, Annie's Room. There are lots and lots of dolls, teddys and the like, left by visitors so that little Annie is not afraid after her parents left her in the time of the Black Death.

We are somewhat relieved to leave this place of history behind us. Also the 18 persons who were down there with us appear silent and depressed. Is this place really still haunted by those ghosts of the dead?

On our way home at least one of the ghosts crosses our path!



nach oben