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Issue 58 - 24 Hours in Glasgow

Scotland Magazine Issue 58
August 2011

 

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24 Hours in Glasgow

Charles Douglas takes us on a tour of Scotland's most vibrant city.

With the news that the Hollywood film star Brad Pitt is filming scenes from his forthcoming movie World War Z in Glasgow this autumn, comes the explanation that Scotland’s largest and most vibrant city is apparently a dead ringer for Philadelphia, where the film is supposed to be set.

Despite having spent half an hour on a train in 30th Street Station on my way to Washington, this writer is unfamiliar with that much celebrated American city, but can perhaps compensate for this by making a few useful suggestions as to what Mr Pitt might amuse himself with in Glasgow.

Once known as “the Second City of the Empire”, Glasgow certainly earned its impressive title in the Victorian era when the Industrial Revolution propelled it from being a small cathedral and university town straddling the River Clyde to its present sprawl and importance.

Between 1870 and 1914, it ranked as one of the richest and finest cities in Europe.

You have only to stand in George Square and look upon its magnificent City Chambers with its marble interiors, or take a stroll along the fine crescents and terraces of Great Western Road to fully appreciate this claim.

Much of this fabulous wealth was generated by the Clyde serving as one of Britain’s main hubs for the transatlantic tobacco and cotton trade with North America and the British West Indies.

Alas, nothing lasts forever, and with the 20th century decline of the great Clyde shipyards and overall collapse of Britain’s manufacturing base, the passage of time has not been particularly kind to the people of Glasgow. The city’s economic downturn came in the aftermath of the First World War and just as things had started to improve, along came the Second World War and Clydeside became a target for German bombing raids.

Worse was to come. In the 1960s, urban renewal projects decimated the city centre, creating peripheral New Towns such as Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.

Under the umbrella of Greater Glasgow, however, there were nevertheless signs that a re-birth was taking place. As thousands of emigrants to the New World will testify, native Glaswegians have an independent spirit of mind which has consistently transcended the vandalism and pretensions of urban planners and politicians.

In the 1980s, the “Glasgow’s Miles Better” campaign was launched, putting a smile on its promotional logo. The magnificent Burrell Collection, a gift to the city from a wealthy Clyde shipowner, was housed in a purpose-built building in Pollok Park; in 1985, the world renowned Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre, with its five lofty exhibition halls, took shape on the banks of the Clyde.

In 1988, Glasgow hosted a Garden Festival, and in 1990 was designated European City of Culture.

The 3,000 seat Clyde Auditorium, otherwise known from its appearance as the “Armadillo,” was completed in 1997.

It may therefore be worth pointing out to Mr Pitt at this stage that contrary to its past semimythical reputation as a city of “hard men”, Glasgow is today cited by the Mercer Index as one of the top fifty safest cities in the world; the Lonely Planet travel guide also lists it as one of the world’s top ten visitor-friendly locations.

And with the 20th (XX) Commonwealth Games scheduled to take place here in 2014, Glasgow’s fortunes are once again set to rise, and deservedly so.

So what is there to do when you have twenty four hours to spend in Glasgow? I suggest that the best plan is to first decide on your priorities. For example, if these include buildings and architecture, old and new, there are an astonishing amount of discoveries to be made. This, after all, is the city of Alexander “Greek” Thomson (1817- 1875) and Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928). For Thomson, there are the Greek Revival churches in Caledonia Road and St Vincent Street, the Egyptian Halls on Union Street, and the National Piping Centre in McPhater Street. For Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the first stop has to be the Glasgow School of Art in Renfrew Street, completed in 1909.

The University of Glasgow owns the bulk of his watercolours and, as part of its Hunterian Museum, has recreated the interiors of a Mackintoshdesigned terraced house to display them. His influence is also retained in the Willow Tea Rooms in Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street.

Mackintosh’s designs gained significantly in popularity in the decades following his death, and his House for an Art Lover was finally built in Bellahouston Park in 1996, serving as a multipurpose visitor attraction.

One of the most rewarding ways of achieving an overview of Glasgow is to make a brief visit to Glasgow Cathedral (also known as St Kentigern’s Cathedral or St Mungo’s Cathedral, those individuals allegedly being one and the same). Built from the twelfth century, this High Kirk of Glasgow is a superb example of Scottish Gothic architecture and flourished at a time when Glasgow was little more than a small west coast town. On the hill above, and overlooking the city, is the Necropolis, (Scotland’s Père Lachaise), a curiously compelling Victorian “city of the dead”, where many of the great and the good of the city are interred.

At first glance, the centre of Glasgow gives the impression of being a motorway city with the M8 sweeping majestically around and through it from the east to cross over the Kingston Bridge. With the recent opening of the M74 extension, much of this traffic will now be diverted, although for those living, working, or playing in the confines of the inner city, it will probably make no significant impact at all.

The reason for this is that Glasgow’s city centre is curiously self-contained, working as it does on a grid system of parallels which makes its streets extremely easy to find and negotiate.

And not for nothing is Glasgow also known as the “Dear Green Place”, incorporating as it does 70 public parks. A visit to the Botanic Gardens at Kelvinside, situated between the River Kelvin, Great Western Road and Queen Margaret Drive, is highly recommended, if only to inspect the beautiful Kibble Palace glass-house which has recently undergone a £7million restoration.

Glaswegians are extremely conscious of style, something that is strongly apparent in the city’s many up-market restaurants, and vibrant clubs and bars. For shoppers, Buchanan Street with its Buchanan Galleries, Princes Square and Argyll Arcade; the Italian Centre in Ingram Street; the St Enoch Centre; Sauchiehall Street, and the Merchant City, offer a wealth of designer choice.

Nor is Glasgow’s cultural life without impact.

The recently refurbished Kelvingrove Art.

Gallery and Museum has 22 themed, state-ofthe- art galleries displaying in excess of 8000 objects.

Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel has been re-housed in the Riverside Museum, yet another exceptional modern building built on the Clyde waterfront. Nearby is the Tall Ship, The Glenlee, restored by the Clyde Maritime Trust. It is one of only five Clyde built sailing ships afloat.

The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Royal Exchange Square hosts an ever changing exhibition from its own collection of contemporary works.

The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens on Glasgow Green tell the story of the people and city from 1750 to the end of the 20th century.

Then there is the aforementioned Burrell Collection in Pollok Country Park, the former Glasgow estate of the wealthy Maxwell family.

Featured in a gallery designed by award winning architects Barry Gasson and Brit Andresen, it was opened in 1983 and features works by internationally famous artists such as August Rodin, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne, and important examples of late medieval art, Chinese and Islamic art.

To complete Glasgow’s cultural portfolio, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, and Scottish Opera are also based here. Concerts are held in the 2,745-seat Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and in the City Halls and Old Fruitmarket in the Mrechant City.

The Citizen’s Theatre in the Gorbals, and the Tron Theatre in the Merchant City, have long been pioneers in contemporary theatre.

The Tramway, housed in the former Museum of Transport, is recognised as one of Europe’s finest venues for contemporary visual and performing arts.

With so much to see and do literally on his doorstep, I cannot imagine for a moment that Mr Pitt will be unable to occupy his spare time. For his sake, I can only hope that he has considerably more than 24 hours at his disposal.