It seems personal, a tragic event in a place you just visited–Pittsburgh, a city filled with historic architecture, from the mansions on Fifth Avenue to the magnificent churches and synagogues, a city filled with art and heart. There, on a frosty morning in the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill North, a gold haze fell across Homewood Cemetery. It was my last day in Pittsburgh, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 and just eight days later on Saturday, Oct. 27, the city was mourning a horrific mass shooting at the Tree Of Life Synagogue.
Art and architecture with soul
When you walk her streets, you become part of the city–a city alive with color, from mustard colored bridges to waves of gold inside Heinz Football stadium to a palette of murals splashed across worn facades.
Even the entrance to the city is magical, one that has garnered many videos. Driving through the Fort Pitt Tunnel from a nondescript suburb, the anticipation grows inside this dark, dank tunnel. Suddenly you see the light, the curtains unfold to a hidden city, glistening office buildings reaching for the sky with rows of blue and yellow bridges. It’s reminiscent of the city of Oz, and it gets better.
The people are just as colorful and enthusiastic, be it the Uber driver proclaiming his long list of favorite sites or natives confessing their return to a city of new, there’s a kinship that forever stays true.
Pittsburgh is a gritty soulful town, raw yet refined, old and new, rich and poor, but most of all, it is a town full of love and life, even among the dead. Both the Allegheny Cemetery and the 200-acre Homewood Cemetery are living museums, home to those who helped build Pittsburgh and America. Birders, walkers and joggers are frequent visitors with an added bonus of grazing deer and turkeys. Tour the grounds and witness the exquisite mausoleums, take time to read the stones and their poetic epitaphs, and stare in the eyes of the sculptures, from angels to a father holding a motherless child, the beauty and detail will move you to tears.
They built this city
Henry Heinz and Andrew Carnegie, both born to immigrants and both self-made millionaires, helped build this city. Ready the camera for the Heinz Chapel, both inside and out, located on the University of Pittsburgh grounds. Andrew Carnegie, the son of Scottish immigrants, built more than 2,509 libraries, with 1,679 built in the United States. In Pittsburgh, his mark can be found in museums and several tech colleges, including the Carnegie Mellon University.
Walk through the door of the Carnegie Art and History Museum, and you are transported to riches from around the world. Upon entry, witness castings of the West Portals of the Abbey Church of Saint Gilly in Gard, France, and tombs of ancient royalty—a must-see for both history and architecture buffs to art and science fans. Families of all ages will enjoy the dioramas in natural history exhibits that feature the lineage of dinosaurs and wildlife from across the world.
Art and learning is a mainstay in the town of Pittsburgh, and one of the most telling examples is the commons area of the Cathedral of Learning in the University of Pittsburgh.
Students sit under a web of spiral ceilings reminiscent of the grand cathedrals in Europe.
They study quietly engrossed in a book or typing on a laptop while others gather at long tables and listen intently to their teacher. Affectionately called the Hogwarts of Pitt, it’s like stepping inside the pages of a Harry Potter book. The public is welcome and can move quietly to view and take photos of the Gothic Revival design.
Old meets new in Bakery Square
Bakery Square is another ingenious example of Pittsburgh’s new wave of bringing together the old with the new. It began when technology company Google renovated the old Nabisco Cookie Factory and named it Bakery Square.
It’s there you will find a village filled with luxury townhomes, art/food events and trendy stores such as Anthropologie and West Elm, as well as Springhill Suites Pittsburgh Bakery Square.
Although not a true luxury hotel, Springhill Suites has developed a unique brand offering guests quarterly art events called Art of Local. An extension of the art community, local artists and artisans share their craft with guests from all over the country. Guests can also enjoy the services of the LA Fitness Health Club with an above ground walkway to shield the weather.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Take the elevator up to the observation deck of University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning for a vista of the Oakland neighborhood.
- Experience year-round tours of the commons area and Nationality Rooms, with tour guides and audible tours. The annual Open House of the Nationality Rooms is December 2, 2018, from noon-4pm.
- Custom tours of Pittsburgh provided by Staci B via motor coach, small bus or trolley: These tours highlight theaters, music venues and cultural activities or a 90-minute tour of the city. Each tour is customized per the client’s request, including content, length of time and transportation.
- Springhill Suites Pittsburgh Bakery Square is perfect for grandparents traveling with children. The suites provide a separate living area with a sofa that pulls out with a trundle bed. Small refrigerator and microwave are also included.
- Jennie Benford, the director of programming for The Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund, is a gifted storyteller, historian and archivist with an immense knowledge of the cemetery. She gives expert tours and schedules year-round cultural events that connect the living with the dead. Both the Allegheny and Homewood cemeteries are open to the public from 8:30am to 5pm. Regularly scheduled tours run from April through the first week of November, and maps are available at the cemetery offices for year-round self-guided tours. For more info, see the respective websites of the Homewood and Allegheny cemeteries (links above).
- The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History features the Reptiles: LIVE! Exhibit, running through May 12, 2019. You may contact the museum with concerns regarding accessibility on weekdays (Email [email protected], or call (412) 622-6578).
- The cemeteries are quite large with steep hills. It is advised to use a vehicle with self-guided tour maps available via the offices year round. For those without a vehicle, you may call the offices in advance to schedule a van during the touring season (Allegheny, 412-682-1624 and Homewood, 412-421-1822).
All photo credits: Deborah Burst
Disclosure: The author’s visit was hosted by the Endeavor company and the Pittsburgh tourist bureau provided passes to the Pittsburgh museums. Any opinions expressed in this post are her own.
IF YOU GO
Visit Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh Tourist Bureau)
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