Guide to the Glasgow Necropolis
After touring around the Glasgow Cathedral, we headed out, along the Bridge of Sighs, over to the looming Glasgow Necropolis. The is aptly named as this bridge was once the only way to access the Necropolis as funeral procession marched the bodies towards their final resting place.
A Necropolis is a large, ancient cemetery. Usually, replete with tombs, monuments and mausoleums. The word necropolis means "city of the dead". The difference between a graveyard and a necropolis is that they‘re usually built far, outside the city instead of being constructed within in. Although this Necropolis is located now within the city limits, during the Victorian times of its inceptions it did sit on the outskirts of the city. The burial sites atop this hill allow the gravestones to look down upon the city, like watchful spirits.
As you pass through the ornate gates, you look up and see the headstones and monuments that are scattered along the hill. The gates which loom over your head are from 1838, and were initially supposed to lead to an underground tunnel, but that proved to be too difficult to construct so the archways remain simply as a decorative piece.
Although the hill might seem small as you wind up your way up, during the 19th century the cemetery expanded and bought up over 37 acres of land on the other side of the hill. The gravestones in the new expansion are not as graphically interesting but seeing the sprawling mass is certainly a sight to see.
Over 50,000 people are buried here. But not every grave has a stone and some of the people once buried here were removed after the "rent" on the land could not be paid. Now, there are only around 3,500 monuments to the dead to be found on the hill.
As you climb the hill, you pass along hillside mausoleums painted with bright colours. These mausolea enclose a grave or burial chamber for the dead. Inside the gate is an area for the mourners to come and have a private area to leave things for their loved ones without the threat of anyone interrupting their time or taking away their mementoes they left behind.
The Victorians had an obsession with death. For them, it wasn't some macabre, but something that was just a fact of life that should be embraced. As such, their cemeteries were not places of sadness but places for life! These cemeteries also served as public parks for the city folk. They would come in droves with picnic baskets, games for the kids, or even just a few ladies, arm in arm, out for a stroll. To this day, this kind of attitude towards the Necropolis is still observed. There were lots of people out walking their dogs, flying kites and just enjoying the sunshine!
As we walked through the cemetery, past the gravestones and monuments, we noticed several distinct Celtic Crosses adorning the stones. Famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, although not buried here, is responsible for designing some of the most striking gravestones in the cemetery. Leaving his iconically Glaswegian mark everywhere you look.
Have you ever heard of the children's Nursery rhyme "Wee Willie Winkie"? It's an ancient English tale, but when I saw the name on this gravestone, it hung a bell inside my head right away. Well, it turns out that the poet who wrote that poem is buried here in this cemetery.
A surprising fact about this place is that although everything seems very meticulously planned out the cemetery was designed by a landscaper and not an architect! When planning the Necropolis, the committee ruled that a landscaper would have better insight into the outdoors and the interaction therein than an architect would have.
Glasgow was one of the first cemeteries of it's kind to be multi-faith. The residence of this city of the dead is made up of Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, Jews, Lutherans and more.
The people buried on the hill, in these more elaborate tombs were influential citizens from the city’s past; shipbuilders, tobacco lords and merchants and their families. It’s like walking through a museum of the people who built this town. Who now get to look down upon it.