Not for the superstitious, nor to be experienced by dark, Glasgow’s 37-acre Necropolis is a treasure trove of fascinating architecture, sculpture and stories from the city’s Victorian past that’s been described by one historian as ‘literally a city of the dead’. Modelled on Père-Lachaise in Paris, it’s estimated that somewhere around 50,000 burials – as marked by around 3,500 monuments (most burials don’t have gravestones) – occurred here between its opening in 1832 and the laying to rest of Commonwealth war dead in the 1940s.
Located adjacent to Glasgow Cathedral, and commonly visited in combination with the cathedral and the nearby St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, the Necropolis was built in the Classical Revival architectural fashion by the Merchants’ House of Glasgow in 1831. Its most prominent monument, dominating the hill and actually predating the Necropolis by several years, is to John Knox, the Scottish clergyman and writer who was a leader of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century.
Noteworthy Glaswegians to have been laid to rest nearby, and commemorated with large statues and monuments, include chemist and industrialist Charles Tennant, businessman and religious controversialist William McGavin and several members of the Blackie publishing dynasty (for whom Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed the famous Hill House in Helensburgh).
Volunteer-led guided walking tours of the cemetery are available for free (save for a suggested donation), and are recommended to help make sense of its sprawling, somewhat haphazard layout and complex topography. If you’d prefer to explore the Necropolis alone – and it’s a brave soul who chooses to do so – a useful pocket-guide to 60 of the most famous monuments is available to purchase from the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis website.