Time Required: Varies, but most likely 5 minutes to an hour
Getting There: It’s a central hub in the city, so most bus lines stop there or stop nearby
Parking: Street parking available nearby, but you should probably take the bus
Other Notes: Bring your camera
Address and additional details at the bottom of this article
George Square; Glasgow, Scotland
Population: 13 statues, history, pigeons, tourists, and people going about their daily business
Glasgow is a city that invites meandering. Its funky, artsy scene provides no shortage of things to happen upon, and that’s exactly how we found George Square.
We found ourselves in George Square after having been in Glasgow for only a few hours, following a Rick Steves: Scotland guide to learn a few details about what we were looking at and the ground upon which we tread.
George Square is a hard-to-miss city center (ahem, centre) park that fills a full city block of concrete and grass in Glasgow’s municipal district. Grass fields line the sides, and even in only-okay weather, you’ll see people lounging on the grass.
Of note: George Square isn’t actually the geographic centre of the city; Blythswood Square holds that honor (ahem, honour).
Anyway, the first prominent feature I noticed in George Square was a sculpture of the “grandmother of Europe” and namesake of an entire period, Queen Victoria, sitting (like a boss) atop her horse, poised and looking to the horizon, despite the pigeon poop streaming down her face. I wondered about the other tourists flowing through–whether they knew more than I did about what we were seeing here and whether they felt a connection to the people commemorated there. Or, were they simply looking at pretty things and taking pictures, as I was?
The other pretty things I photographed included the Scott Monument (of the Sir Walter variety), a pair of lions who somehow looked like Chris, and the Cenotaph (A Great War/World War I memorial) they stood in front of.
After taking in the image of her royal highness (who reigned for 63 years and seven months–holy crap!), I scanned for other statues that stood out among the gobs of jacket-and-scarved people bustling to and fro on the grey day.
The statues I saw were placed in George Square over 100 years ago, and their placement there is an important part of Glasgow’s history.
However, post-travel research told me that these statues are not only at the center of the city, they are/were at the center of a controversy, albeit one that is being worked out in true British fashion and not with the American brazenness and dramatic flair. The controversy surrounded the city wanting to move the famed statues.
But WHY?! was my initial American response. How dare they? How could they even dream of moving the statues of Queen Victoria and the lions and… and… well, I couldn’t recall who else was there.
And apparently I’m not the only one who didn’t really know what statues I was looking at and couldn’t really remember whose statues sat in George Square after-the-fact. In researching this controversy and its pros and cons, I discovered that Glaswegians themselves aren’t exactly bowing down to the stone figures, and also turn to maps and guidebooks that not only name who’s who, but remind the locals why said person is even famous. As one Glaswegian blogger wrote, “Do you even know what is there just now?”
With a little more research, I found out that the city wanted to move the statues so they would be able to hold the 2016 Homeless World Cup in George Square, which is basically an AWESOME idea for an event, and turned out to be a humongous success with 512 players and 80,000 spectators, temporarily making the grey, concrete square into “the most inspiring place on the planet.” I’m not crying–you’re crying.
Anyway, the city put the statues back in place after the event, making this debate a tiny blip in the expanse of Glasgow’s history, but creating an interesting challenge for tour guides and history books that mention the square: “The iconic statues of Glasgow’s de facto city centre, George Square, have been there for 200 years, except for when they weren’t.”
And so it goes.
We definitely were not the only tourists who stopped by to visit George Square. Other tourists unabashedly walked and stopped in front of one another (and us) to take pictures and pose with the slightly obscure, but not really that obscure, but sort of under-remembered Scots of the past.
I snapped a few other statues of men doing things (as men do), including James Watt, an engineer commemorated in a seated position, presumably thinking about machines and suchlike, and two men in robes whom I don’t want to incorrectly identify and whose names I did not write down. I also snapped a few of the beautiful buildings that surround George Square, into and out of which important people do their daily work.
A full list of those under-remembered Scots of the past can be found on the Scotland Herald website, where they explain who sits or stands where and why they are famous enough to be carved out of stone.
Part of me feels guilty for not knowing who they are. Part of me just feels uneducated. And part of me simply doesn’t care. Even if I don’t know who all of those people were and what they meant to the world, and even if I am not particularly moved by being near their likenesses, I do know that George Square holds new meaning for the modern world as the site of the 2016 Homeless World Cup. It’s now a place where history and fame stepped aside for a moment to bring a little hope, fun, and camaraderie to our world.
Visit George Square!
Address: George St, Glasgow G2 1DU, UK
Phone Number: +44 141 287 8349
Tickets/More Info: open 24 hours