One of the beautiful things about a walking tour of Glasgow is the possibility to experience history with your own eyes, through its art and architecture. Art and architecture can tell us a lot about an epoch and its people - when life is good, opulent and sumptuous buildings appear, when the going gets tough…there’s also evidence to show for it!
Let’s have a look at some of the top few buildings that reveal the true face of “the second city of the Empire” - as Glasgow used to be called in the 19th century.
1) Glasgow Cathedral (1197)
Glasow’s history starts with the story of St Mungo (Glasgow’s patron saint) who arrived there from Culross near Fife, and in around 550 AD established the first Catholic Church. It was made of wood and didn’t survive a blaze. In 1136 the first cathedral was consecrated though this bit too burned in a fire, yet people didn’t lose faith and built a new church in 1197.
Based on the Romanesque style, Scottish Gothic architecture was incarnated in this religious core building of Glasgow. The Cathedral boasts a beautiful rose window, an elegant pointed spire, typical buttresses supporting the thinner walls and large stained glass artwork. It’s also the only church that survived the Reformation of 1560.
2) University of Glasgow (1870)
As your Glasgow tour guide will point on West End tour of Glasgow, The College, as it was originally called, started on the premises of Glasgow Cathedral and later on was given its own land nearby on the High Street. By the mid 19th century it was such a polluted location to the industrial revolution, and it was decided to move The College westwards.
On the site of Gilmorehill, Sir George Gilbert Scott (and later on his son Oldrid) erected one of the first and most magnificent examples of Gothic revival architecture, second only to Westminster in London! The architects did their best to make the whole ensemble of the buildings look much older than they were. For example, some of the stone and even the staircase were transported from the original site on High Street.
3) Glasgow Stock Exchange (1875-77)
If you’re sightseeing in Glasgow, you’ll find this building near GoMA, and perhaps not realise its significance. The love for Gothic architecture is quite notable in Glasgow, but this building (located what is now known as Nelson Mandela Place) is a fusion with Italianate style, an idea conceived by John Burnet and extended by his son Sir John James Burnet.
The façade bears lots of captivating masonry such as roundels representing mining, art, science, engineering, and building. Strangely, the sculptor put an axe in the hand of a miner instead of a picnic - clearly not many miners were on the streets in those days!
This building housed the Scottish Stock Exchange from 1964 (and in 1971 underwent a serious renovation) but soon it was merged with the London Stock exchange. On the fifth floor there was the South African Consulate. But that’s a story for another blog!