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While showing a Japanese friend around Edinburgh a couple of years ago, he asked me one evening, "What makes Edinburgh such a great place to live in?"
Luckily we were in a coffee shop in the Old Town, not far from the solid, imposing statue to a great son of the city, David Hume (1711-1776). We went outside and, pointing to Hume, I suggested one would have to go back to the 18th century to find the roots of the reason why it is such a fun place to live.
If one visited Edinburgh at that time, 250 years ago or so, you'dd find yourself at the source of many of the ideas and inventions so much of our "modern" world is founded upon. This was the Age of Enlightenment; a period of philosophical provocations and scientific discoveries, extraordinary creativity and technical developments that made Britain as a whole the giant of a nation it was in the 19th century. Its origins can be traced to Scotland and in particular to Edinburgh.
By 1750, Scotland had by far the most literate population in Europe. It is of great pride but little surprise to today's Scots that so many of the great minds and inventors from this era as well as from that of the Industrial Revolution which followed on from it, were from Scotland.
With such a heritage still easily discovered in the buildings and roads around the city, it is hardly surprising that Edinburgh, in the middle of the 20th century when Britain was in terrible ruins after the war, with a broken economy and thoroughly demoralised people, decided to celebrate all that is good in life.
Edinburgh had, after all, contributed much of what is important in human advancement through the ideas and innovations of its many sons like David Hume. These ideas and innovations still continued to inspire, so it was with these thoughts that the festival was born; a celebration of all that is good in our way of life and a thanksgiving that such a celebration could be enjoyed in such a beautiful city.
One of the great visions of the 18th century Enlightenment was the intellectual virtue of thinking for oneself rather than merely accepting the prevailing authority of others. This idea alongside Britain's rather tolerant attitude of permitting its people to express their ideas without fear of repression naturally led through the ages to this annual summer celebration. It wasn't long before it grew into the international festival of creativity in the arts which it is today. The festival in turn attracted other artists and performers who, while not part of the official festivities, came and performed nevertheless, adding all kinds of extra activities. This today is called the Edinburgh Fringe.
Every summer, the Edinburgh Festival/Fringe becomes the world's largest festival of arts with anyone able to take part in it. At least, for hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, Edinburgh is THE place to be through the summer months. The population more than doubles during these months, from under 500,000people to over one million. It is this, perhaps, as well as the history that resulted in the idea of the festival which one can find all around you, and the great natural beauty of the place that makes Edinburgh a truly exciting and fun place to be, whatever your age....it's this that makes it such a good place in which to live.