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Discovering Edinburgh's Mercat Cross

29th Jan 2020

The Mercat Cross is important to us for two big reasons: firstly, it’s the meeting point for the start of all our tours, and secondly, it is - of course - where we got our name. But the importance of the Mercat Cross reaches far beyond our walking tour company, and its many uses over time shed light on the fascinating history of Edinburgh’s Old Town and the people who lived here...

What is the Mercat Cross?

Mercat is the Scots word for market, and the market cross or Mercat Cross was a hub of activity in centuries gone by.

Adorned with the national animal of Scotland, the Mercat Cross was an incredibly important proclamation point in the 15-1700s - an age before modern technology. There was no internet, no phone reminders and no Facebook notifications (the horrors). So, how was the most important news shared? By shouting it from the balcony of the Mercat Cross, of course! This included word of general elections and successions to the throne. There was a three-day delay between London and Edinburgh proclamations due to the time it took a messenger to travel on horseback. The tradition of the three-day delay is still upheld to date whenever news is announced from the cross.

The cross also marked a spot where 18th century visitors to the city would come to find a caddie guide to show them around. Just like our tour guides do today.

Criminals would also meet their grizzly fate here as the locals cheered on. Hangings and burnings were common, but the onlookers didn’t want the same old, same old. They wanted entertainment. So, executors would often get creative in their punishments from hot lead crowns to chopping off appendages. Thankfully this part of the tradition no longer occurs and the last hanging in Scotland was in Aberdeen in 1942. 

Today the Mercat Cross is an excellent place to grab a photograph, and it’s also the perfect starting point for a tour of Edinburgh’s Old Town or a trip to the underground vaults.

Where is the Mercat Cross?

Luckily the Mercat Cross is relatively easy to find, with a prominent position on the Royal Mile right next to St. Gile’s Cathedral. You’ll find the Cross opposite the City Chambers, and if in any doubt simply look for the bright orange umbrellas and the smiling faces of our friendly visitor services team. 

Would you like to learn more about this intriguing location? Come along on our Secrets of The Royal Mile Tour for an incredible journey into Edinburgh’s past. 

Preserving your past in 2020

In celebration of the start of a new decade, we’re doing a 2020 themed blog series! Follow us on a journey, discovering through writing as we feature 20 key people, objects, and locations related to the history of Edinburgh. 

2010-2020 marked an interesting decade for us. Our team grew, we became a Living Wage Employer and we donated thousands to charity. What will these next 10 years have in store for us we wonder? Time will tell. But one thing is certain and that’s plenty of new exciting events and tours!

mercat cross

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