Just an hour's bus ride from Edinburgh, so we went for the day, a long day, past flat green fields, rolling hills, then up to Stirling proper, right up the hill to the Castle. The views from the top shimmered in autumn haze, as we wallowed in history, plugged in the audio guides and gave ourselves over to the stories of James IV, V and ever after. Historic Scotland has made immense progress in restoring Stirling Castle, its gardens, ramparts, castle walls and gates, the architecture itself (embellished with sculptures everywhere) a delight, shaped by medieval to Renaissance artistic tastes.
What drew me most, though, were the tapestries. When we visited the Cluny Museum in Paris (again for tapestries), the very famous Lady and the Unicorn series feature a lion and a unicorn on each side of each tapestry, yet little is said about them. They appear almost as if they were heraldic, for the lion and the unicorn appear on the royal coat of arms for the United Kingdom, in much the same pose as on these 16th Century tapestries. Yet the interpretation focuses on classical or religious symbolism, rather than political.
Here at Stirling Castle, the Great Hall, built in 1504, features facing lions and unicorns on the rooftop. Also here at the castle, we watched a team of weavers (with help from the Metropolitan Museum in New York) work on re-creating six tapestries celebrating the Hunt of the Unicorn. Four of the six have been completed and hang in the Chapel Royal. Their purpose: to refurbish the interior of the main palace, bringing it back to 16th Century splendor, when tapestries hung on every wall. These tapestries are exquisite, exact replicas with mille-fleur (thousand flower) backgrounds.
Of course, I would like some sort of romantic story behind the union of the lion and the unicorn, for example, James V in his pursuit and subsequent marriage to Madelaine of France, who tragically died of tuberculosis, his subsequent marriage to Marie de Guise. But the reality is more likely political, and the dates don't match . . . and the history is far grittier. Yet the mystery remains behind the tapestries, both sets.
It was a beautiful day, despite tired feet at the end of our walking tour. Here's a picture of Allen on the northern castle wall. Click on any picture to go to Webshots for a few more pictures of Stirling.