The Royal Mile begins at Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, which sits atop an extinct volcano, and runs all the way down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Abbey Ruins. The area closest to the royal residence become known as the Canongate, established by King David I during the 12th century. Until 1865, the Canongate Burgh was independent and completely separate from the rest of the city. Amongst all the cafes and shops selling every pattern of tartan looms a strange statue that virtually goes unnoticed.
Besides being a few stories up from the street level, the clothing on the statue is what strikes the observer as being a bit odd considering the area. The ancient-looking effigy is adorned with a cloth headdress and outfitted in flowing robes that harken to another country and time period. The story behind this seldom noticed statue has become an urban legend unto itself.
As the story goes, during the 17th century a young man by the name of John Gray was destined to be hanged for assaulting the Provost of Edinburgh. He escaped the day before his execution and fled to Morocco. Once there, he was enslaved by the emperor. However, Gray was able to rise up through the ranks and would eventually gain favor with the emperor. Gray amassed a considerable fortune while in Morocco.
Years later, Gray returned to Edinburgh with his band of pirates. Legend has it that while seeking redemption, Gray was able to cure the Provost’s daughter of the plague, who also happened to be his cousin. The two eventually married and settled in the tenement. It’s believed the mayor constructed the effigy to honor the patronage of the emperor of Morocco. The home became known throughout the neighborhood as “Morocco’s Land.”
However, another theory suggests that the effigy was simply a signpost to identify a local trading post.
Know Before You Go
The statue is easily visible at night or day. It's located about two stories high, down from the Edinburgh School of English, and between Mid Common Close and The Wedgwood Restaurant.