From the Hilltop: Glasgow and Edinburgh

Glasgow and Edinburgh are Scotland’s largest cities, and, as such, it seems they are constantly being compared to one another. If one claims to have a truer Gaelic heritage, the other claims to have a more active modern Gaelic population. If one is known for its size and industriousness, the other’s claim to fame is its historical significance and architecture. Ironically, both cities have a hill either in them or nearby from which you get a great view of the city: Glasgow’s Necropolis and Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat (or Calton Hill, depending on which view you want). Having been on both, it’s interesting to think about the different urban landscapes of which each afforded me a view.

Glasgow’s Necropolis is shorter than Arthur’s Seat and dotted with elaborate gravestones between which you can get a great view of the cityscape and the rolling hills beyond. Glasgow from above looks much more industrial than Edinburgh – there are many ‘modern’ buildings, tall glass structures that poke up from amidst the smaller, mostly older buildings. From the Necropolis, you get a good view of the vast spread of Glasgow, dense with residences, shops, and people, the Glasgow School of Art peeking above the roofs on its hill, various cathedral spires, giant hotels and conference centers declaring their presence with elaborate roofing or imposing block facades. To the south and west, seeming to wrap around the city, innumerable windmills dot the horizon. You can also see the River Clyde snaking its way through the city, marked by the many bridges and breaks in the buildings.

Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat offers a high unobstructed view of the city, which feels older and more spread out. Edinburgh from above looks more residential, with shorter buildings and far less glass visible (a signifier of industrial and modern buildings, in my mind at least). Edinburgh Castle sits high on its Mound, the different residential areas around the city blend with the business areas (because in many ways, most of the structures are so mixed-use), and the many greenspaces, especially that of the Meadows, gives the cityscape much more breathing room. Also because Arthur’s Seat sits somewhat away from the city centre, the quiet and solitude of the peak allows the viewer to feel separate from the city without being far away or inconvenienced. The Pentlands and rolling hills beyond the city’s edges make the city as a whole feel rather small and much less hectic.

It is interesting to me that one of the most striking differences between Glasgow and Edinburgh is the presence of glass (or lack thereof). Large sheets of glass windows, glass roofing, often mixed with metalwork, are indicators of structures built in more recent years and are a direct indication of the industrial nature of a city, its modernity. Glasgow feels like a city industrialized and modern because of its crammed closeness and its high-rising glass facades; Edinburgh feels like a medieval city because the prominent features of its cityscape are the castle and low-lying residential areas spreading out from a small core. The hilltop-views of each of these cities create opportunities to ponder the similarities and differences – and also remind me that I really am partial to Edinburgh!

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