City of culture: Glasgow travel guide - Scotland Magazine
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City of culture: Glasgow travel guide

Scotland’s most populous city is packed with heritage attractions that can easily rival the capital

Though Edinburgh may be known for its World Heritage Status, Glasgow is not short of an accolade or two – being named European City of Culture in 1990 and UNESCO City of Music in 2008, which was just as well, as it had been down at heel for a while before that.

In the 1980s, people had pretty much written off Glasgow, as mass unemployment caused by the collapse of the ship industry as well as the closures of its steelworks, coal mines, and factories, took their toll. However, Glasgow is nothing if not a master of reinvention, and by the 1990s it was proving itself as a cultural powerhouse, filled with creative energy and vision.

Credit: Michael A Hill

Thankfully, it didn’t have to start from scratch, but built on the foundations that were already here, such as the brilliant museums (mainly free) and the buildings that tell the city’s story, from its medieval origins, through its industrial growth and modern-day regeneration.

So, as with any good story, on this foray into Glasgow’s cultural attractions, we should start at the beginning, at Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest of all the city’s buildings. The city of Glasgow grew up around a church founded in the 6th century by St Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint. Though that building is long gone, it was located on the site of the present-day cathedral, which was consecrated in 1197.

With its central stone spire, age-worn dark stone, and dozens of arched windows, it is a beautiful example of a medieval cathedral, and it is the only one on mainland Scotland to have survived the Scottish Reformation with its roof intact.

It wasn’t for a want of trying by the Reformists, but by the 16th century, the cathedral was so much part of the fabric of the city that the tradespeople took up arms to protect it: an early demonstration of the resilience of Glaswegians.
Inside, highlights include a rood screen, which is a rarity in Scottish churches today, and the crypt, which is the symbolic burial place of St Mungo.

Looming above the cathedral is the Necropolis, also known as Glasgow’s ‘City of the Dead’. Dating from 1832, the cathedral was initially built as a burial place for Glasgow’s rich merchants, who felt there should be a grander cemetery befitting the status of the city as the population swelled. As such, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, an architect renowned for his Greco-Egyptian style, was enlisted to create many of the tombs. He wasn’t the only designer whose work can be seen – Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the architect known for his ‘Glasgow Style’ take on Art Nouveau, created the Celtic headstone of one Andrew McCall, a close friend of his father’s, and it is believed to be his first public work.

The Glasgow Necropolis, situated beside its cathedral. Credit: Mark Sykes/AWL Images

From the cathedral quarter, it’s a 20-minute walk to George Square (or you can make use of the hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing bus) the nucleus of the city, where you will see the elaborate City Chambers, another showcase of Glasgow’s power and wealth, this time built in the late Victorian era.

Opened by Queen Victoria herself in 1888, legend has it that the small holes in the shelves in front of the seats of the main council chamber, were added to hold flowers to mask the stench of members of the public from the Queen’s sensitive nose during the opening ceremony.

This is an extract. Read the full feature in the November/December 2021 issue of Scotland, out on 15th October.

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