The following article will attempt to look into a few of the many landmarks in and around the city of London. Some of these are well known, and some not so well known. While residents will be familiar with these, not all visitors will be as familiar or have an idea of the history housed within these great structures.
With several thousand years of history under its belt, Many London Buildings and monuments have become important landmarks over the years by virtue of their age and centuries of day to day events by their famous and often royal occupants. Some of the most well known are recognized by most people in the world, but some of the stories behind them may not be as well known.
We’re beginning with some of the more well known landmarks such as Big Ben and The Palace of Westminster. This one is universally recognized by many people outside of London, but not all are aware that Parliament is housed there, its history as a royal palace, or that fire and bombing raids have caused changes to it over the centuries.
Tours are available while Parliament is in session to both citizens of the U.K. and non-citizens. Some of the traditions from centuries gone by can still be seen here. A new Speaker of the House of Commons is physically dragged to the chair by other Members of Parliament upon election. It seems that when the House of Lords didn’t care for a Speaker from the House of Commons in simpler times, they didn’t keep their jobs, or their heads very long. On one particularly busy day, two speakers were beheaded. They don’t behead so much anymore, and the two house system of checks and balances now solves disagreement through debate. The House of Commons Chamber was destroyed by a bombing raid in 1941 and was rebuilt as five floors, and reoccupied in 1950.
Big Ben was incorporated into the design of the building after a fire in 1834, and after the first bell cracked upon testing, a second bell was pulled up the belfry it was finally sounded for the first time in July of 1859. This bell also soon cracked, and the crack was rotated away from the hammer as it sits today, rather than recast a new bell.
Buckingham Palace is another widely recognized landmark, and is a must see for visitors to London. Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the Queen, and the headquarters for the Royal Family as it has been since the late 1700’s. The palace is located in the Westminster District. Easily reached by public transportation Buckingham Palace is one of the most visited landmarks in London. Visitors can see the staterooms during the annual summer opening in August and September. There you will see priceless paintings by the masters, fantastic sculptures and some of the finest furniture on earth. Or you can see the Changing of the Guard which is also quite popular.
The Tower of London has been a palace, a fortress, and a prison at different times in its history. Its current use as a museum may be its best. Defensive walls and towers have been built around it by its different royal residents. A moat fed by the River Thames was drained in 1830. William the Conqueror began construction in 1078, but it was not finished in his lifetime.
Many high profile executions have been held here over the years making for some great grizzly ghost stories for tourists. The Tower Bridge and each separate tower have their own interesting histories. You can still get a look at the Crown Jewels there as well. The Tower has also served as a zoo, and an arsenal.
St. Paul’s Cathedral’s first service took place in 1697. This is the fourth St. Paul’s Cathedral to stand on the original site. The original St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in the seventh century. The third was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It took thirty five years to build the present cathedral that was designed by Sir Christopher Wren with the idea that the leading church in London should be magnificent, and every part of it, including the organ live up to that idea. Recent restoration for the 300th anniversary has it ready to serve London for another 300 years.
Westminster Abbey whose formal title is The Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster but is popularly referred to as Westminster Abbey. This landmark has hosted almost every coronation since the Battle of Hastings and is still a venue for worship and important national events. It is no longer a Benedictine Monastery, and St. Edward the Confessor’s body lies in St. Edwards Shrine. The Harrison and Harrison built organ was placed in 1937, and has been restored and improved often. It is said to have unparalleled clarity. Verger-led tours are only available for individuals or family groups, but specialist tours of groups fewer than 26 can be accommodated provided you hire a Blue Badge Guide. There are several associations that provide professional guides.
Whitehall and Downing Street – 10 Downing Street has been associated with the Prime Minister of England since 1730. Originally a gift to the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole, he refused it as a gift and insisted it be used by future First Lords of the Treasury. The site of assassinations, and the nerve centre for the British Government during times of war, the black door at 10 Downing Street is a must see for history buffs and the current home of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
More recent attempts at great architectural feats have brought mixed reviews. The London Eye is well accepted as it provides great views along the River Thames. The Millennium Dome in Greenwich has not been as well received as a structure, but is the largest indoor anything in the U.K. and was to house exhibits, shops, restaurants and live entertainment venues. Hopes are that it will be extremely useful for the 2012 Olympics in London. The Millennium Dome was closed to the public on December 31st 2000, several hours prior to the millennium it was supposed to celebrate. Charges of improper donations to the Labour Party also tainted the construction. It is set to reopen in 2007 as “The O2”. These new landmarks may take a little time for the citizenry to adopt as their own. The guy living down the street from Big Ben probably wasn’t thrilled when that bell rang for the first time either.
These are just a few of the many great landmarks in London, New or old, these and many others draw tourists into London in Droves. Purchasing admittance in advance is generally a good idea, and be prepared to stand in line a while for some landmarks as well.