Stirling (Scots: Stirlin; Scottish Gaelic: Sruighlea, ) is a city and former ancient burgh in Scotland, and is at the heart of the wider Stirling council area. The city is clustered around a large fortress and medieval old-town beside the River Forth. Historically it was strategically important as the "Gateway to the Highlands", with its position near the boundary between the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands, indeed, it has been described as the brooch which clasps the Highlands and the Lowlands together. Its historical position as the nearest crossing of the Forth to the river mouth meant that many of its visitors were in fact invaders. The beast of Stirling is the wolf, which it shares with Rome. According to legend, when Stirling was under attack from Viking invaders, a wolf howled, alerting the townspeople in time to save the town.
Once the capital of Scotland, Stirling contains the Great Hall (restored 1999) and the Renaissance Palace (restoration completed 2011) within the Castle that rivalled any building in Europe at the time. Stirling also has its medieval parish church, The Church of the Holy Rude, where King James VI was crowned King of Scots on 29 July 1567. The Holy Rude still functions as a living church with a service every Sunday.
Stirling is a centre for local government, higher education, retail, and light industry. Its population in 2008 was 33,710, for Stirling itself, the wider urban area including Bridge of Allan and Bannockburn has a population of 45,750. This makes it the smallest city in Scotland: indeed it is smaller than many of Scotland's larger towns.
One of the principal royal strongholds of the Kingdom of Scotland, Stirling was created a Royal burgh by King David I in 1130, which it remained until 1975, when the county of Stirlingshire was absorbed into Central Region. In 2002, as part of Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee, Stirling was granted city status.
Stirling was originally a Stone Age settlement as shown by the Randolphfield standing stones and Kings Park prehistoric carvings that can still be found south of the town. The city has been strategically significant since at least the Roman occupation of Britain, due to its naturally defensible crag and tail hill (latterly the site of Stirling Castle), and its commanding position at the foot of the Ochil Hills on the border between the Lowlands and Highlands, at the lowest crossing point of the River Forth. It remained the river's lowest crossing until the construction of the Kincardine Bridge further downstream in the 1930s. It is supposed that Stirling is the fortress of Iuddeu or Urbs Giudi where Oswiu of Northumbria was besieged by Penda of Mercia in 655, as recorded in Bede and contemporary annals.
A ford, and later bridge, of the River Forth at Stirling brought wealth and strategic influence, as did its port. The town was chartered as a royal burgh by King David in the 12th century, with charters later reaffirmed by later monarchs (the town then referred to as Strivelyn). Major battles during the Wars of Scottish Independence took place at the Stirling Bridge in 1297 and at the nearby village of Bannockburn in 1314 involving William Wallace and Robert the Bruce respectively. There were also several Sieges of Stirling Castle in the conflict, notably in 1304. Sir Robert Felton, governor of Scarborough Castle in 1311, was slain at Stirling in 1314.
The origin of the name Stirling is uncertain, but folk etymology suggests that it originates in either a Scots or Gaelic term meaning the place of battle, struggle or strife. Other sources suggest that it originates in a Brythonic name meaning "dwelling place of Melyn". The town has two Latin mottoes, which appeared on the earliest burgh seal of which an impression of 1296 is on record:
- Hic Armis Bruti Scoti Stant Hic Cruce Tuti (The Britons stand by force of arms, The Scots are by this cross preserved from harms) and
- Continet Hoc in Se Nemus et Castrum Strivilinse (The Castle and Wood of Stirling town are in the compass of this seal set down.)
Standing near the castle, the Church of the Holy Rude is one of the town's most historically important buildings. Founded in 1129 it is the second oldest building in the city after Stirling castle. It was rebuilt in the 15th century after Stirling suffered a catastrophic fire in 1405, and is reputed to be the only surviving church in the United Kingdom apart from Westminster Abbey to have held a coronation. On 29 July 1567 the infant son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned James VI of Scotland here. Musket shot marks that may come from Cromwell's troops during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms are clearly visible on the tower and apse. Another important historical religious site in the area is the ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey, the resting place of King James III of Scotland and his queen, Margaret of Denmark. During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the Battle of Stirling also took place in the centre of Stirling on 12 September 1648.
The fortifications continued to play a strategic military role during the 18th century Jacobite Risings. In 1715, the Earl of Mar failed to take control of the castle. On 8 January 1746 (OS) 19 January 1746 (NS), the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie seized control of the town but failed to take the Castle. On their consequent retreat northwards, they blew up the church of St. Ninians where they had been storing munitions; only the tower survived and can be seen to this day.
Economically, the city's port supported overseas trade, including tea trade with India and timber trade with the Baltic. The coming of the railways in 1848 started the decline of the river trade, not least because a railway bridge downstream restricted access for shipping. By the mid 20th century the port had ceased to operate.
Famous residents have included Mary, Queen of Scots; King James VI of Scotland; Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman; documentary film pioneer John Grierson; film music composer Muir Mathieson; animation pioneer Norman McLaren; TV presenter Kirsty Young; and footballers Billy Bremner (captain of Leeds United and Scotland) and Frank Beattie (captain of Kilmarnock).
The Barnwell brothers, Frank and Harold, worked at Grampian Motors in Causewayhead, and in 1909 they designed and flew the first powered aircraft in Scotland. Frank Barnwell went on to design aircraft including the Bristol Blenheim. A small monument to the brothers' pioneering achievement has been erected at Causewayhead roundabout.