World Facts Index > United Kingdom > Aberdeen

Aberdeen is a modern and prosperous coastal city in the North East of Scotland, with a population of about 200,000. Set on the Rivers Dee & Don, Aberdeen is flanked on one side by the North Sea, and on the others by craggy heather-covered moorland, lush valleys and rugged mountains, making it a popular holiday destination for those who appreciate the great outdoors.

Old Aberdeen
North-east of the city centre, this district is characterised by narrow, winding, cobbled streets and lanes, historic buildings (in granite of course), and bohemian atmosphere, no doubt influenced by the strong student presence. From 1489-1891, Old Aberdeen was actually an independent burgh, and maintained its own Town House which is still standing today. Other interesting sights include King's College and St. Machar's Cathedral, which was founded in 580AD, although the building which can be visited now is relatively new, dating from the 12th Century. Architecture in this district pre-dates the grand-scale 19th Century town-planning which is responsible for most of the city centre.

City Centre
The main street in central Aberdeen is Union Street, which stretches about 1 mile from the West End towards the Harbour in the east. Most of the city's major museums, civic buildings and attractions can be found on or near Union Street, often housed in what were once genteel granite residences.

West End
While this area has less to offer in the way of historic attractions, you will find a wealth of restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels on these vibrant streets. Most of the buildings here are beautiful designs by Archibald Simpson and John Smith, but sadly many have been neglected and now possess a slightly dilapidated charm.

Aberdeen Harbour
This is a modern well-maintained harbour with three large docks, from which you can catch a ferry to Orkney, Shetland, the Faroe Islands, or even Norway or Iceland. It's a fascinating place, even if you're not planning a trip. Get there early enough on a weekday morning and you'll see (and hear, and smell!) the Fish Market, where the fresh catches are auctioned off. At any other time, it's pleasant to wander around looking at the various fishing trawlers, clippers, and oil-supply vessels docked here, while you appreciate that bracing North Sea air.

The region which surrounds the River Dee is best known for Balmoral Castle, the Scottish seat of the Royal family. This was a favourite holiday destination for Queen Victoria, although many of her guests were less enthusiastic. Often known as 'Royal' Deeside, this area to the west of Aberdeen is also popular with less illustrious holidaymakers, particularly those who enjoy the great outdoors, as the beautiful craggy countryside provides excellent natural fishing and hiking opportunities. For restaurants and hotels, try towns such as Banchory, Ballater, Balmoral, and Braemar.

The River Don flows towards Aberdeen from the north west, reaching the North Sea at Bridge of Don, just north of the city. Once past the city boundaries, the surrounding area is less populated than Deeside. The chief tourist attractions here are the heather-covered moorlands and many ruined castles, Pictish sites and curious stone circles. Towns worth a visit include Inverurie and Alford.

North of the Don Valley, the Buchan region encloses coastal towns, villages, and a lot of uninhabited moorland, towards the eastern border of Morayshire. Good places to use as a base when touring this area include Fraserburgh and Peterhead.

History of Aberdeen

Prehistoric Aberdeen
The first settlers were hunter-gatherers based around the estuaries of the rivers Dee and Don around 6000 BC. About 3000 years later, in the Stone-Age, Neolithic settlers cleared much of the surrounding forestry in order to increase the available land for crops and livestock grazing. They built chambered burial cairns, some of which were near what is now called Rosemount Place.

2000 BC marked the arrival of the Beaker People from the Rhineland, so called because they buried their dead with a beaker full of liquid to ease the journey to the next life. These people were responsible for the strange stone circles which can be found in the Aberdeenshire area. There are approximately 30 of these in Scotland, and although none are on the scale of Stonehenge, they are nevertheless fascinating.

Competition for land was fierce as the Celts came north in 400 BC, and when the Romans arrived in 43 AD, they found a warring population of primitive Iron Age tribes, covered with colourful body tattoos. The Romans named the inhabitants 'Picts', which roughly means 'painted people' and marked Aberdeen on their maps as 'Devana'.

Scottish Wars of Independence
Until the 12th Century, Aberdeen had been a harbour settlement, but at this point the city became a Royal Burgh and the centre moved to Castlegate. After the death of Alexander III in 1286, the issue of succession to the Scottish throne created rifts between north and south. There were two main rivals for the throne, John Balliol and Robert The Bruce. Balliol was the choice of Edward I of England, but the Bruce refused to accept his decision. Balliol broke his allegiance to Edward and allied with France. In the ensuing battle, Robert the Bruce sided with England, Balliol was defeated, and Edward gained control over Scotland. Robert the Bruce then had himself declared King of Scotland and fought to regain control of his country, which he managed in 1314 with a decisive victory over Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Aberdeen had a part to play in his victory during the Wars of Independence. In 1306, the castle was garrisonned by Edward I, but Aberdonians stormed it in a night-time raid, using 'Bon Accord' as a password. 'Bon Accord' is now the city's motto, appearing on the City Coat of Arms. At the time, Aberdeen was rewarded by a gift of land from King Robert the Bruce, which even now is referred to as the Freedom Lands, but they were punished in 1337 when Edward III stormed the city, destroying much of it.

University of Aberdeen
In 1489, the area now known as Old Aberdeen became an independent burgh and remained so, complete with Town House, until 1891. This was a busy and prosperous time for the city, as they worked to re-build what Edward III had destroyed, but on a grander scale than before. In 1495, Bishop Elphinstone founded the Catholic King's College, named after James IV. By 1593, there were only two universities throughout England when Earl Marischal established the second in Aberdeen, the Protestant Marischal College, which is also the second largest granite building in the world. Rivalry between the two colleges was fierce until 1860, when they finally merged and became the University of Aberdeen.

The Granite City Expands
At the beginning of the 19th Century Aberdeen was growing, encouraged by the 'Aberdeen New Streets Act', at a rate which its economy found difficult to support. Union Street, named after the Union of Scotland, England & Ireland in 1801, was first planned in 1800 but had nearly bankrupted the entire city by the time work was completed.

Apart from the Old Aberdeen district, in which 17th and 18th Century architecture dominate, the modern city is mostly the product of ambitious 19th Century town-planning. Many of the buildings, especially Civic ones and West End homes, are classically influenced, and were designed by Archibald Simpson, William Smith, or his brother John, who designed Balmoral Castle at Prince Albert's request.

The unusual popularity of granite as a building material, both in residential and commercial areas, gives Aberdeen a distinctive appearance. These days, granite is sometimes brought up from Cornwall for important new buildings, in order to preserve the city's architectural character, but at one point construction companies were supplied from the one hundred working granite quarries in the area, only two of which remain.

Until the 20th Century, Aberdeen was a successful port whose main industries were fishing, shipbuilding, and trade. In fact, Britain's oldest company, The Shore Porter's Society (established in 1498), was created to organise over land transportation of the goods that came into the harbour. However, these industries were in decline, as was Aberdeen, until oil was discovered in the North Sea in 1970. Canny Aberdonians convinced the major oil companies to establish headquarters in Scotland, and the city swelled to accommodate the rising population. Although the North Sea oil boom is past its peak, Aberdeen continues to prosper and develop its potential as a centre of tourism, after all, the oil has to run out sometime.


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