The German writer Theodor Fontane who traveled extensively in Scotland during the 19th C fell in love with Stirling and its castle. He spoke glowingly about the sun setting over the mountains and the Highland Regiment's pipe band playing on the castle forecourt. Visitors, he said, would "take home from Stirling the most beautiful picture that the Scottish landscape could provide". The town still leaves a deep and lasting impression on visitors. Much of Stirling Castle that is visible today, located in a commanding position above the town and crowning a 250ft/77m volcanic crag, dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. The history of the fortifications is closely linked with the Stewart dynasty. It has been historically proven that Alexander I died in 1124 in the castle. In 1296 the town was handed over to the English; however, a year later, after William Wallace won the Battle of Stirling Bridge, it was returned to the Scots, who held the castle as the last bastion of Scottish rule. In 1314 Robert the Bruce decisively defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn and under the Stuarts Stirling became an important royal seat. James II (1430), James III (1451) and James V (1512) were all born here. In 1543 Mary Stuart was crowned as queen of Scotland in Stirling and she continued to live here before moving to France.
The castle can be reached via a steep lane lined by old houses. Located on the Esplanade is a memorial to Robert the Bruce and his victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. The defensive installations for the outer moat date from the time of Queen Anne. The entrance with its round towers (15th century) opens on to the Lower Square which is overlooked by the Parliament Hall (1475-1503) and the Palace. This was designed by Andrew Ayton for James IV in 1496 and has a decorative facade showing allegorical figures. The "Stirling Heads" in the Royal Apartments deserve special attention. Some 35, originally 60, finely carved oak medallions display portraits of the Scottish rulers. Situated on the north side of the Upper Square is the Royal Chapel (1594) where James VI's son Henry was baptized. The elegant early Renaissance building houses some fine 17th century frescoes and a Florentine frieze. The Garden (Nether Green) to the west of the chapel was laid out c 1532 and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders' Regimental Museum is accommodated in the King's Old Buildings. The best views are from the northwestern section of the fortification.