Are There Catacombs in Edinburgh?17th Aug 2022
By Scott, Mercat Storyteller
At one point in a Storyteller’s career in Edinburgh you will be asked: does Edinburgh have underground catacombs? The answer to this is a simple no and while this blog post could end there, we do have something else that is a little bit more special.
What Is A Catacomb?
Before I explain what, let's first answer one simple question, what is a catacomb? A catacomb is defined as a manmade structure that is used for religious practice and commonly as a place of burial. Catacombs can be found all over the world, with some of the most famous being in France, but are seen to have originated in Rome.
Normally, these would be used as passageways and cemeteries and were a way of showing respect for the dead. In Edinburgh we do not have anything like that (that we know of anyway) but instead we do have the South Bridge Underground Vaults that can be compared to a catacomb like structure.
Edinburgh's Underground Vaults
The vaults in the South Bridge were never constructed for religious use, but were intended as storage and workshop space for local businesses. Constructed between 1785 and 1788, the vaults under the bridge were perfectly hidden away.
They allowed for an ingenious use of space at a time when the city was still learning to expand outwards rather than upwards. After the businesses moved out, the vaults started to see criminal activity and sadly the homeless began to use the underground space as a convenient shelter.
The Edinburgh vaults were not used as a cemetery and while parts could have maybe been used for religious practice at some point, that wasn’t the intended purpose. Nevertheless, their story is just as interesting and visitors often leave amazed, fascinated and excited about this hidden part of Edinburgh's history.
Visit the Blair Street Underground Vaults and learn more about their fascinating history with our award-winning storytellers on a five-star Historic Underground tour.