Site of the old Mercat Cross
The Mercat Cross was the place where Edinburgh merchants gathered to discuss business before the building of the Royal Exchange, now the City Chambers, in 1753. (In Scotland, merchant—from the French 'marchand'—denotes a shopkeeper or retailer as much as a wholesale trader.) It was also the traditional gathering point for the 'caddies' who could be hired to guide people to addresses in the town, deliver messages or run errands. The Cross was dismantled in 1756. Its original position had been near the north-east corner of St Giles Kirk, whence it was moved in 1617 and close to which it has since returned.
This was also the traditional spot for punishing offenders in the past, often for minor (!) offences. Punishments carried out during the period of the Commonwealth under Cromwell's rule seem to have been particularly harsh:
Last of September 1652 - Twa Englisches, for drinking the Kingis helth, war takin and bund to the gallous at Edinburgh Croce, quhair ather of thame resavit threttie nyne quhipes upon thair naiked bakes and shoulderis, thaireftir thair lugges [ears] were nailit to the gallous. The ane had his lugge cuttit from the ruitt with a resoure; the uther also being naillit to the gibbit, haid his mouth skobit [opened with a splint], and his tong being drawn out the full lenth, was bund togidder betuix twa stickes hard togidder with ane skainzie threid [length of twine] space of half an hour or thairby.
26 Marche 1655 - Mr Patrick Maxwell, ane arrant decevar, was brocht to the Mercat Croce of Edinburgh, quhair a pillorie wes errectit, gairdit and convoyed with a company of sodgeris [soldiers]; and thair, eftir ane full houris standing on that pillorie, with his heid and handis lyand out at hoilis [holes] cuttit out for that end, his rycht lug was cuttit af; and thaireftir caryit over to the toun of St. Johnnestoun [Perth], quhair ane uther pillorie wes erectit, on the quhilk the uther left lug was cuttit af him. The caus heirof was this, that he haid gevin out fals calumneis and leyis aganes Collonell Daniell, governour of Peirth. Bot the truth is, he was ane notorious decevar and ane intelligencer [spy], sumtyme for the Englisches, uther tymes for the Scottis, and decevand both of thame; besyde mony uther prankis quhilk wer tedious to writt.
Last of Apryle 1655 - The Marschellis man, quha wes apoynted to haif cuttit Mr Patrick Maxwells haill lug, bot being buddit [bribed] did onlie cut af a pairt of his lug, was thairfoir this day brocht to the Mercat Croce of Edinburgh, and set upone the pillorie, and thair his lug boirit [bored] for not obeying his commissioun in that poynte.
(from Daniel Wilson's Memorials of Edinburgh, 1840s)