Glasgow has seen more changes in the past two decades than almost any other British city. From a declining industrial center with widespread pessimism about its future, Glasgow has been transformed into a forward-looking city and one of the hippest spots in Europe. There has always been an enormous sense of pride in the city’s history – the long list of inventors, engineers, writers and architects of the 19th and 20th centuries were part of the driving force of industrialization, tamed by socially progressive values in the ‘second city’ of the British Empire.
With ports on the Clyde giving access to the Irish Sea, Glasgow was an important shipbuilding center and well known for massive engineering works, where the locomotives of the nation were produced. Its former wealth can still be seen in the classical architecture of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson and the Art Nouveau style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. During the 19th century, the grid of the commercial center streets was laid out to the west of the Merchant City, whose Palladian mansions had been commissioned by industrial barons in the previous century. The West End (the area surrounding the hill, on which the University of Glasgow sits) is separated from the commercial center by the Kelvin River and the brooding expanse of Kelvingrove Park.
In the post-war period, the city suffered a decline and the population halved from its peak of 1.1 million in 1939 (despite this, Glasgow is still the UK’s fourth largest city). Large, bleak council estates in the city suburbs, poverty and widespread unemployment led to problems with the infamous razor gangs and a general malaise in the city. In recent years, Glasgow has picked up again and there seems to be a definite spring in its step. The city is turning its economic fortunes around, as heavy industry gives way to 21st-century technology, with call centers, financial services and information technology. Arguably, the driving forces of this revolution have been the cultural and artistic fields. Scottish film, theatre, writing, music and design are all pushing boundaries and capturing worldwide attention. The opening of the Burrell Collection in 1983 (housing an art collection gifted by a shipping magnate) inspired the growth of a thriving museum and gallery scene that has helped propel Glasgow into becoming a top tourist destination.
With a world-class art gallery and several excellent museums as a starting point, Glasgow was chosen as a European city of culture in 1990. From this point on, the various strands of its post-industrial economy and burgeoning cultural sector, combined with a large student population (there are four universities in the area and many colleges), have given the city a youthful, progressive character. For visitors that tire of the city’s delights, Glasgow offers easy access to some of Scotland’s beautiful mountains, glens, lochs and unspoiled coastline. Loch Lomond, for instance, is only 32km (20 miles) away.
The city’s northern latitude means that although summer days are long and light, the weather tends to be unpredictable throughout the year and can be particularly cold and wet in winter.
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