The historic centre of Edinburgh is divided into two by the broad green swath of Princes Street Gardens. To the south the view is dominated by Edinburgh Castle, perched atop the extinct volcanic crag, and the long sweep of the Old Town trailing after it along the ridge. To the north lies Princes Street and the New Town. The gardens were begun in 1816 on bogland which had once been the Nor Loch. To the immediate west of the castle lies the financial district, housing insurance and banking buildings. Probably the most noticeable building here is the circular sandstone building that is the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
The Old Town has preserved its medieval plan and many Reformation-era buildings. One end is closed by the castle and the main artery, the Royal Mile, leads away from it; minor streets (called closes or wynds) lead downhill on either side of the main spine in a herringbone pattern. Large squares mark the location of markets or surround major public buildings such as St Giles Cathedral and the Law Courts. Other notable places of interest nearby include the Royal Museum of Scotland, Surgeons' Hall, the University of Edinburgh, and numerous underground streets and vaults, relics of previous phases of construction. The street layout, typical of the old quarters of many northern European cities, is made especially picturesque in Edinburgh, where the castle perches on top of a rocky crag, the remnants of a dormant volcano, and the main street runs down the crest of a ridge from it.Due to the space restrictions imposed by the narrowness of the "tail" the Old Town became home to some of the earliest "high rise" residential buildings. Multi-storey dwellings were the norm from the 1500s onwards.
The New Town was an 18th century solution to the problem of an increasingly crowded Old Town. The city had remained incredibly compact, confined to the ridge running down from the castle. In 1766 a competition to design the New Town was won by James Craig, a 22-year-old architect. The plan that was built created a rigid, ordered grid, which fitted well with enlightenment ideas of rationality. The principal street was to be George Street, which follows the natural ridge to the north of the Old Town. Either side of it are the other main streets of Princes Street and Queen Street. Princes Street has since become the main shopping street in Edinburgh, and few Georgian buildings survive on it. Linking these streets were a series of perpendicular streets. At the east and west ends are St. Andrew's Square and Charlotte Square respectively. The latter was designed by Robert Adam and is often considered one of the finest Georgian squares in the world. Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland, is on the north side of Charlotte Square. Sitting in the glen between the Old and New Towns was the Nor' Loch, which had been both the city's water supply and place for dumping sewage. By the 1820s it was drained. Some plans show that a canal was intended, but the Princes Street Gardens were created instead. Excess soil from the construction of the buildings was dumped into the loch, creating what is now The Mound. In the mid-19th century the National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy Building were built on The Mound, and tunnels to Waverley Station driven through it. The New Town was so successful that it was extended greatly. The grid pattern was not maintained, but rather a more picturesque layout was created. Today the New Town is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture and planning in the world.
Southside: Marchmont, Bruntsfield, Newington, Morningside and Merchiston
A popular residential part of the city is its southside, comprised of a number of areas including Marchmont, Bruntsfield, Newington, Morningside and Merchiston. These areas are particularly popular with students (the central University of Edinburgh campus is based around George Square just north of Marchmont and The Meadows, and Napier University has major campuses around Merchiston/Morningside) and with Festival-goers. These areas are also the subject of fictional work: Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus lives in Marchmont and works in Newington; and Morningside is the home of Muriel Spark's Miss Jean Brodie. Today, the literary connection continues, Merchiston being the home of the authors J. K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, and Alexander McCall Smith.
Leith is the port of Edinburgh. It still retains a separate identity from Edinburgh, and it was a matter of great resentment when, in 1920, the burgh of Leith was merged into the county of Edinburgh. Even today the parliamentary seat is known as 'Edinburgh North and Leith'. With the redevelopment of Leith, Edinburgh has gained the business of a number of cruise liner companies who now provide cruises to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Leith also boasts the Royal Yacht Britannia, berthed behind the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. Leith is also home to the computer game company Rockstar North, developers of the Grand Theft Auto series.