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
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.