Scotland Magazine Issue 62
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Charles Douglas explores this exciting and vibrant city
You have got to hand it to Glasgow.
The wealth of Scotland’s largest city originated from the River Clyde, and its city fathers and mothers in the 21st century know exactly how to make the best of this spectacular waterfront. The latest state-of-the-art landmark to relocate there ten months ago is Scotland’s Museum of Transport, housed in a striking, futuristic piece of design by internationally-renowned Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid. The Riverside Museum, which houses the collection, was her first major public building in the UK, and displays Glasgow’s rich industrial heritage, which largely stems from the River Clyde. The Glenlee, known as ‘The Tall Ship’ is berthed alongside the Museum, creating a fantastic experience in this stunning setting.
Symbolising the city’s ocean going past, this is a three masted barque, with length 245 feet, beam 37.5 feet and depth 22.5 feet. She was built at the Bay Yard in Port Glasgow. She first took to the water in 1896 and rounded Cape Horn 15 times before being bought by the Spanish navy in 1922.
Tipped off by a British naval architect who had come across her in Seville, the Clyde Maritime Trust succeeded in purchasing the re-named Galatea at auction for five million Pesetas (£40,000) and brought her home to Glasgow.
Resembling a zig-zag crustacean, the Riverside Museum is the latest innovatory landmark to spring up on the north bank of the River Clyde, its predecessors being the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre at Finnieston, completed in 1985, Scotland’s largest exhibition centre, and, in 1997, the 3,000 seat capacity Clyde Auditorium, designed by Sir Norman Foster, and widely known from its appearance as ‘The Armadillo’. Adding to the drama of the river landscape is the Catagory A listed Finnieston Crane, a picturesque relic from an era when steam locomotives manufactured at Springburn were hoisted onto ships for export.
Across the river on the south bank at Pacific Quay in Govan is the Glasgow Science Centre which opened in 2009 and comprises a Science Mall, an IMAX cinema, and the Glasgow Tower.
All three are adjacent to the headquarters of BBC Scotland’s television, radio and online services, designed by architect David Chipperfield and built two years earlier.
The regeneration of the River Clyde Waterfront has been impressive by any standards.
There are 13 Clyde Tunnel, which goes under it, but outstanding among them are the imposing Kingston Bridge, carrying the M8 motorway to Prestwick; the Tradeston Bridge, often called the “Squiggly Bridge” at the Broomielaw, and the Clyde Arc (known locally as the “Squinty Bridge”, because of the way it crosses the river at an angle, connecting Finnieston to Govan, For visitors to the city centre of Glasgow, usefully laid out in parallel streets, the contrast between the conventional Victorian dignity of the buildings in George Square, Sauchiehall Street and Buchanan Street, and the zany modernity of the River Clyde waterfront comes as a delight.
Glasgow is a delight, the fantastic mix of its personality and culture on display for all to enjoy.
Be it theatre, art gallery, theatre, music, eating out, shopping or night life, Glasgow exudes a buzz that no other Scottish city can compete with.
From a viewpoint of the Necropolis, Glasgow’s city of the dead on the rise above Glasgow Cathedral on its north eastern approaches, the city sprawls to the south and west. Opened in 1833, and dominated by a statue on a column of the reformer John Knox, which pre-dates the opening of the cemetery, there are serried ranks of monuments defining the generations of great and the good of a metropolis on the make: a marble figure of the bleach tycoon Sir Charles Tennant; the tombs of the Blackie publishing family and grocery tycoon Sir Thomas Lipton.
Glasgow’s prosperity sprang up in the Victorian era, the wealth it generated enabling the building of fine civic monuments such as the magnificent, marble halls of the City Chambers in George Square, a statement of the prosperity of Glasgow’s nineteenth century elite, those who had accumulated wealth from trading in cotton and tobacco, shipbuilding and heavy engineering.
With the advent of the twentieth century those sources went into rapid decline, but the visible legacy remains in such buildings as the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum with its twenty two themed galleries, packed with arms and armour, natural history, and outstanding European artworks, including works by the Old Masters, French Impressionists, Dutch Renaissance, Scottish Colourists and members of the turn-of-the-last-century Glasgow School.
One of the highlights to be seen is Salvador Dali’s Christ on the Cross.
Glasgow is a veritable treasure trove of art and artefact. The Glasgow University’s Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery features permanent exhibitions on The Antonine Wall: Rome’s Final Frontier, showcasing a collection of monumental sculpture and other Roman artefacts recovered from the Antonine Wall, A Healing Passion: Medicine in Glasgow Past and Present, and Lord Kelvin: Revolutionary Scientist, a tribute to the work of Glasgow’s greatest scientist. In addition, there is a remarkable collection of works by the late- Victorian painter James McNeill Whistler.
For those on the Charles Rennie Mackintosh trail, the Hunterian also houses collections of the work of this immensely versatile Scottish architect, designer and artist and his artist-wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, with the interiors of the house in which they lived having been meticulously re-assembled.
Mackintosh enthusiasts will also want to visit Bellahouston Park where the House for an Art Lover, based on drawings from 1901 by Mackintosh, was lovingly opened as a visitor centre in 1996. Other ports of call for the architect’s original work are the Glasgow School of Art dating from 1899 and 1909, and the Willow Tearooms in Sauchiehall Street, commissioned in 1903 by Catherine Cranston, an entrepreneurial local businesswoman.
In 1944, the shipping millionaire Sir William Burrell, who had spent his life amassing art treasures from across the world, bequeathed his entire collection to the City of Glasgow, on the provision that it be housed within 16 miles of the city centre. It took the trustees more than 20 years to find a suitable location, but after the Pollok estate was gifted to the city by the wealthy Maxwell family, a design competition was launched and in 1983, a remarkable museum was opened, the work of Barry Gasson in collaboration with Brit Andresen. Housed within are collections of medieval art including stained glass and tapestries, oak furniture, medieval weapons and armour, Islamic art, artefacts from ancient Egypt and China, Impressionist masterpieces and modern sculpture No cultural visit to Glasgow is complete without a visit to the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens situated in Glasgow Green. Essentially a museum of social history it tells the dramatic narrative of the people and the city from 1750 to the present day.
Music and theatre are essential to the lifeblood of the Glaswegian. Thus Glasgow’s Henry Wood Hall is the home of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, founded by Sir Alexander Gibson in 1950. Scottish Opera, founded by Sir Alexander Gibson in 1962, is housed in the Theatre Royal, and Scottish Ballet, founded by Peter Darrell and Elizabeth West in 1957, has a purpose-built ballet at the Tramway Arts Centre. All three companies tour extensively.
A full range of entertainment takes place throughout the year at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Sauchiehall Street, which opened in 1990; and, the City Hall and Old Fruitmarket in Candleriggs, the Merchant City, the latter serving as the home of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Music Centre.
For those in search of a more specific Scottish musical tradition, there is the National Piping Centre located in a former Alexander “Greek” Thomson designed church in McPhater Street, and incorporating a museum, hotel and restaurant.
Glasgow’s reputation for innovatory theatre is epitomised at the Tron which started life as the Glasgow Theatre Club in 1978.
In 1980, the Club took over the almost derelict 1795 James Adam designed Tron Kirk replacing the destroyed Close Theatre, its previous venue in the Gorbals.
After 10 years under its artistic director Michael Boyd, currently director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Tron has established itself as a powerhouse of both new writing and dynamic productions of classic texts.
One remarkable thespian survivor remaining in the Gorbals, the renovated tenement district south of the Clyde, has been the internationally known Citizens Theatre, founded in 1943 by gallery director Tom Honeyman and the dramatist James Bridie. Many of the established stars of British stage and the film world began their careers here.
Forty eight hours can fly past in a city the size of Glasgow, but one thing is certain. With its breadth of visitor attractions, welcoming and friendly inhabitants and vibrant night life, you will be spoiled for choice.