Glasgow – A City In Need of an Identity

Glasgow Cathedral is the resting place of St. Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow.

Glasgow Cathedral is the resting place of St. Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow.

I might say that Glasgow has been a bit of a disappointment, perhaps due in part to the city suffering in comparison with Edinburgh. Where Edinburgh is charming in a 19th century way, Glasgow is an architectural mish-mash of old and new.

The Necropolis, City of the Dead, sits on a hill overlooking the Cathedral and the city.

The Necropolis, City of the Dead, sits on a hill overlooking the Cathedral and the city.

We toured some stunning sites like the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis which were full of old world charm, as was the campus of the University of Glasgow. Shuffled together with these architectural treasures are high rise apartment buildings, steel and glass office buildings, modern high rise hotels, and an eclectic mix of nouveau architecture in their new Museum of Transportation, The Hydro sports complex and the new science center. Glasgow seems like a city stuck somewhere between old and new with indifference toward any specific identity.

The ultra-modern Performance Center and Arena next to the River Clyde where shipping docks once sat.

The ultra-modern Performance Center and Arena next to the River Clyde where shipping docks once sat.

Glasgow, with close to half a million people, has about twice the population of Edinburgh. Historically, Glasgow is a working city. The now non-existent shipbuilding docks along the River Clyde produced famous ocean liners like the Lusitania, the Mauritania, the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary, and the Queen Elizabeth II as well as hundreds of Allied warships during World War II.

Glasgow, being the closest port to the United States, was the gateway to Europe for raw goods from the New World. Fortunes were built in the tobacco and sugar markets. International shipping spawned a wealthy class that built up the west side of Glasgow. The working class mostly occupied the east side. The difference is evident today with the east side of town showing signs of wear and neglect.

Classrooms overlook one of the university quadrangles.

We felt smarter as we walked through the quadrangles at the University of Glasgow.

Glasgow has some stunning historical architecture. The City Chambers building adjacent to George’s Square opened in 1881 is so stylish inside that it has been the setting for film settings including both The Vatican and The Kremlin. Glasgow Cathedral dates back to the 12th century and is the only cathedral in Scotland to have remained intact following The Reformation. Glasgow University, the second oldest university in Scotland, was chartered in 1451, and it is said its many spires inspired the setting of Hogwarts Academy in the Harry Potter series. Apparently, the filmmakers were turned down by the University of Glasgow to use the main campus as a setting for the Harry Potter films.

Old and new now stand side by side in Glasgow.

Old and new now stand side by side in Glasgow.

About fifty years ago developers began systematically knocking down old stone buildings in Glasgow to make way for modern skyscrapers. The city’s ceiling was raised from five stories to fifty stories, and that movement is still underway. A relatively small percentage of structures are protected for historical reasons. There seems to be general apathy about fixing or preserving the classic parts of Glasgow. Even when the powers-that-be proposed updating George’s Square in the heart of the city, the citizens of Glasgow raised hell until the city leaders scaled things down to a simple resurfacing of the square.

The bartender at Oran Mer, an old church converted into a bar/restaurant.

We ate at Oran Mer, an old church converted into a bar/restaurant. The bartender was pleased to pose for me.

Although parts of Glasgow seem a bit tired and out of repair, I believe our visit here has been worthwhile. The immaculately refurbished Mitchell Library has been a comfortable retreat to read and work. And as always, the local people have been nothing but courteous and helpful. Ultimately, it is the people who give Glasgow much of its charm.

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8 comments on “Glasgow – A City In Need of an Identity

  1. Ah, the eternal Glasgow/Edinburgh question! Love Edinburgh but my heart lies with Glasgow – studied architecture there! It’s all to do with access – if you are intimate in Glasgow it gives up its secrets. Edinburgh bears everything on its sleeves 😉

    • Mike Lince says:

      Thank you! I was hoping someone would come to Glasgow’s defense. After re-reading my post, I thought it might have seemed overly critical of Glasgow. If so, it was unintentional. As with everywhere in Scotland, the people of Glasgow have been wonderful, and I would hope not to offend.

  2. mkesling63 says:

    This is in every city. Sky scapers did not give any an indenty but the rat race.

    • Mike Lince says:

      Edinburgh has avoided much of the rush to ‘modernize’ which accounts for much of its charm. Glasgow seems less inclined to preserve its architectural heritage.

  3. sweetsound says:

    Edinburgh does have an old-world charm that Glasgow lacks. However, Glasgow reminds me of my favorite city in the world, New York City, and I almost prefer it because of that. Actually, after expounding that very idea to someone here, I was told that New York City was patterned after Glasgow. I wonder if it’s true!

    • Mike Lince says:

      You have a point about Glasgow. It is unique and is special in its own way. Just this morning I remarked to my wife that if I had it to do over, I would love to have had the chance to attend the University of Glasgow. We both felt smarter just walking through the campus. 🙂 – Mike

  4. Love the shot of the barkeep at Oran Mer… makes me want a Guinness. I know wrong country, but still…

    • Mike Lince says:

      Not the wrong country, actually. Irish pubs are fairly common here and Guinness on tap is not unusual. Like some locals say, “We know how to make the stuff. The Irish know how to enjoy it.” In this particular instance, the Scots have copied the Irish.

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