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Edinburgh Bridges

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By the mid 18th century, the Burgh had become dangerously overcrowded, with a population of some 60,000, and the citizens decided that, the '45 Rebellion having come and gone, it might be safe to dwell outside the walls and protecting valleys.

They, therefore, initiated an age of bridge building, which was to affect profoundly the whole future of the city. The original North Bridge (1765) has been rebuilt in steel; but the George IV., Regent, and Dean Bridges still show impressive spans in masonry when viewed from below.

The effect of these bridges was to dislocate the old life of the city, so that the old east and west flow of traffic, governed by the contours of the ridges and valleys, was suddenly checked in favour of new currents running north and south - a situation to which the organism of the city has not even yet fully adjusted itself.

The story of the seventy years following 1765 is one of the most remarkable in the history of cities; for at a time when buildings elsewhere were showing the eccentricities or dullness which marked generally the declining phase of Renaissance Art, the citizens of Edinburgh roused themselves to an effort almost without parallel.

Bereft of King and Parliament, they created the New Town and its extensions - a monument of orderly development of which any capital city might be proud.

It is the more remarkable that this was not the enforced scheme of some great dictator, but the spontaneous achievement of the citizens themselves.

No law, but only a sense of fitness, made possible those noble streets, squares, and crescents, which grace the northern slopes of the city; and only the advent of fully developed nineteenth-century industrialism prevented the completion of the scheme by an extension on the same spacious lines which was to have united the city with the Port of Leith.

Of this, only the great terraces on the Calton Hill and the crescent immediately to the north were carried to completion. The remainder of the area has lapsed into a muddle of railway sidings and confused streets.

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