Looking down the High Street towards the Tron Kirk, the section rebuilt in 1828 following the Great Fire of Edinburgh (1824).
On the south side, about one-third of the way down from the Castle toward the Palace is Parliament Square, named after the old Parliament House which housed both the law courts and the old Parliament of Scotland between the 1630’s and 1707 (when its existence was ended by the Act of Union)
Parliament House now houses the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court. St Giles’ Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh, also stands in Parliament Square.
By the West Door of St Giles’ is the Heart of Midlothian, a heart-shaped pattern built into the “setted” road, marking the site of the Old Tolbooth, formerly the centre of administration, taxation and justice in the burgh. The prison was described by Sir Walter Scott as the “Heart of Midlothian”, and soon after demolition, the city fathers marked the site with a heart mosaic.
Locals have traditionally spat upon the heart presumably to express disgust.
The custom has been to some extent sanitised by tourist guides who claim that the spitting is merely for good luck. On the north side, opposite St Giles’, stand Edinburgh City Chambers, where the council meets. On the south side, just past the High Kirk, is the Mercat Cross from which royal proclamations are read and the summoning of Parliament announced.
The Lawnmarket was originally part of the High Street before its separate naming, which accounts for the street numbering being a continuation of the High Street numbers. A charter of 1477 designated this part of the High Street as the market-place for what was called “inland merchandise” – items such as yarn, stockings, coarse cloth and other similar articles. In later years, linen was the main product sold.
As a result, it became known as the Land Market which was later corrupted to Lawn Market.
Today, the majority of shops in the street are aimed at tourists. On the north side is the preserved 17th-century merchant’s townhouse Gladstone’s Land owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The south side has a strong Dutch influence in its 17th-century gables. The lower end of the Lawnmarket is intersected by George IV Bridge on the right (south) and Bank Street on the left (north), leading to The Mound and the New Town. The view down Bank Street is closed by the baroque headquarters of the Bank of Scotland. On the south-west corner of this intersection, with its entrance on George IV Bridge, is a new hotel, replacing the former Lothian Regional Council offices. This building is of controversial design winning both best building awards and “carbuncle” awards in 2009/10. Between Bank Street and St Giles Street, marking the end of the Lawnmarket, the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s supreme criminal court, is housed in what was formerly the Sheriff Court.