Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Edinburgh, Scotland | C.1950

Photo Credit: Ben Peers

To those unfamiliar with the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, you would be forgiven if you assumed it involved ink or needlework. But in a similar way, it certainly has left a permanent mark on Scottish culture and history. The military term “tattoo” refers to a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been performing at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland since 1950.

The term “tattoo” derives from a 17th century Dutch phrase which translates to “turn off the tap,” and was a signal to tavern owners played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums to turn off the taps so that soldiers would return to their lodgings. With the introduction of modern barracks and military bands in the 18th century, tattoo evolved into the word to describe the last duty call of the day.

The first Edinburgh Military Tattoo drew 6,000 spectators seated in simple bench and scaffolding surrounding the Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade. Within two decades, the annual audience along the esplanade grew to 217,000. Seating expansions since then have included new spectator stands and the addition of temporary grandstands with a capacity of 8,800.

The Tattoo, taking place every August, starts with fanfare, followed by the Massed Pipes and Drums as they march through the gatehouse of the Castle to perform a traditional pipe band set. Finally come the show’s main acts; each branch of service is represented by bands from the British Armed Forces as well as drill and display teams.

In 2010, the event officially received the title of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo from Queen Elizabeth in celebration of its 60th anniversary. The Military Tattoo, now celebrating its 70th anniversary, has since expanded to include civilian acts, fireworks, and has also toured overseas.

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