City of the Dead or Necropolis – from Greek nekros (dead person) + polis (city)
If you ever looked up things to do or see in Glasgow, you will have noticed the Necropolis. It is usually pretty high on the list.
Visiting cemeteries on your travels might sound morbid but there is magic in visiting these resting places. By this I don’t mean you should try and visit every cemetery everywhere you go. Some of them are very modern, mostly done in concrete, and seem soulless. But there are some that really deserve the name City of the Dead.
There is this one cemetery in Milano where almost every tombstone is a work of art. Zagreb’s cemetery Mirogoj extends behind a palace-like entrance and looks like a walk through the woods, far away from the chaos of the city centre.
The Necropolis in Glasgow follows them close behind. It is not full of marble works of art nor is it hidden in the lush greenery away from the city. The Necropolis, by comparison, is close to the heart of the city, up on top of the hill looking down on Glasgow. Its summit is recognisable by the memorial column, the monument to John Knox.
The monument predates the cemetery itself; the column is from 1825 while the first burials were noted only in 1832 in the northeast; they were exclusively Jewish burials*. The cemetery was modeled after the Parisian Père-Lachaise. It is estimated that cca 50,000 burials have taken place here, with around 3,500 tombs.
*Interesting fact – the monument to William Wallace is in the Jewish section of the cemetery. It is pretty easy to miss thanks to Hollywood’s portrayal of the First War for Scottish Independence. According to the film, they were all wearing kilts so you’d expect the monument to look like a long-haired Australian in a kilt.
However, as the war happened end of the 13th century, kilts were nowhere to be found so the monument is a monument to a Scottish knight who fought for freedom, helmet, sword and all.
Let’s take a little tour, shall we?
The entrance to the Necropolis is through the iron-wrought gate next to the Glasgow Cathedral.
The first thing to notice are the three memorials on the left hand side (the same side as the Cathedral), The one closest to the gate is dedicated to the still-born children of Glasgow. The second one to the soldiers lost in the Korean War. The last monument is dedicated to the Glaswegian recipients of the Victoria Cross.
The cobbled path will next lead you to The Bridge of Sighs. The funeral processions passed over the bridge thus it got its name (unlike the Venetian Bridge of Sighs that got its name from women crying after their men when they were taken to prison).
Once across the bridge, you can follow the paths around the tombs and graves. There is no geometric pattern, the paths don’t follow the Roman 90-degree angle way of road building that can be seen in many cities around the world (Barcelona, Rome, parts of London, New York, Zagreb, even my hometown Bjelovar). The “spontaneity” of the walk actually makes it feel calmer; walking among the quiet stones whose writing is all but gone. I feel like I am going a bit morbid again.
Onto happier things!
The Necropolis is not only the city of the dead but also the biggest green space of Glasgow with over 180 species of flowering plants and trees that attract life to this place – birds and many insects! You can find wood mice, voles, and roe deer too – although the deer are usually only seen late at night. If you are lucky, you might even see some pipistrelle bats at dusk.
We didn’t have much luck with animals as we visited around noon on a cold, overcast day.
The weather and the clouds might have kept the animals in their shelters, but they did not diminish our experience of the views of Glasgow!
As I mentioned, the Necropolis sits on a hill overlooking Glasgow. There are pretty decent views from any point (even from the bottom half that was the Jewish section), but the best views, of course, are from the top, the summit with the John Knox monument on it. Fun fact, he actually wasn’t buried here as he died centuries before the cemetery was built.
Whether visiting cemeteries is your thing or not, there are some of them that shouldn’t be missed, purely from the historical and artistic side. With the Necropolis you also get a bonus of it being a nice walk in nature.
Even though it was cold and there was a slight drizzle threatening to turn into a downpour, we thoroughly enjoyed the hour we spent amont the quiet residents of Glasgow (we would’ve spent longer weather permitting). If you get bored, you can go around trying to find freemasons’ symbols on the tombstonres 😀
Visiting the Necropolis is one of the better outdoor experience Glasgow has to offer.
Have you seen any other cemetaries around the world worth a visit? Let us know in the comments.