History of Aberdeen

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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.