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Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

London – Westminster Abbey

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on January 10th, 2010

Church, burial ground, coronation site and much more, Westminster Abbey continues to attract visitors over 900 years after its founding.

In many respects the architecture is common. There’s the traditional cross-shaped floor plan with a nave, north and south transepts and several round side areas. But both its execution and use raise The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster (the official name) to among the highest examples of church construction.

For, here lie buried kings and poets, scientists and philosophers who have themselves raised humankind to the highest levels. Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell (discoverer of electromagnetic theory, which later lead to radio and TV), Chaucer and Kipling, Dr. Samuel Johnson (creator of the first English dictionary) and many other justly famous names are interred here.

Here lie many of the kings of English history. Henry III, for example, who reigned from the age of nine for 56 years, is buried in the Abbey. Much of the current structure owes its origins to his efforts.

New discoveries are still being made within its walls. As recently as 2005 the burial tomb of its founder, Edward the Confessor (Edward I) was discovered beneath a 1268 AD Cosmati mosaic. A number of other royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries were also found using ground penetrating radar.

But far from being merely about the dead, here the centuries of history come alive. Still an active church, Westminster Abbey is the site of services and events for all denominations. Used for every coronation since William the Conqueror’s in 1066, pageantry combines with austerity to create an atmosphere of grandeur.

That grandeur can be seen in the enormous vaulted ceilings, typical of early Gothic design. But the artistic grandeur combines with technological brilliance. Just as one example, the support arches are not the ornate visible ones, but are actually enclosed within the thick stone roof.

The art housed by the Abbey makes the site worth visiting. Inside the west entrance is a portrait of Richard II, painted in 1390, making it one of the oldest known contemporary portraits of a British monarch.

There are several outstanding monuments in the nave, including those depicting Winston Churchill and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior of WWI. This last was the last full-body interment in the abbey. Only containers of ashes are allowed now.

From the cloister, walk to the octagonal Chapter House near Poet’s Corner, one of the earliest constructed sections, built at the time of Henry III. Here you can see the mixture of architectural styles forming the Abbey, as the result of additions made over the centuries.

Stroll over to the south transept to view the original rose window with its nearby rare medieval sculpture. Three dimensional art was often considered sinful during the period.

Then stand near the center where the various architectural elements join and take in a 360 degree view. Almost 1,000 years of history in a brief glance, still alive and still being made.

The Abbey is easily reached by the tube (the London Underground subway system). Exit at the St James Park stop.

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London – St Paul's Cathedral

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on February 9th, 2009

For three hundred years St Paul’s Cathedral has served as one of the enduring symbols of London, a role it richly deserves. Completed in 1708, Sir Christopher Wren’s masterwork is recognized the world over by its large dome and classical architecture.

The fame of the dome is particularly ironic since the plans, third in succession after two rejected models, didn’t call for one. Wren took advantage of a clause in the commission permitting him to make ‘ornamental’ changes.

And, in effect, the large dome – visible from several parts of London far away – is just an ornament. In the interior is a much smaller dome directly underneath and between the two a large cone-shaped structure supporting the 850-ton lantern.

Outside, astride the large dome are two towers and an extraordinary classical facade. Though it forms the entrance, the view is less familiar since photographs typically concentrate on the famous dome, which lies on the other side. The west side offers an especially good view. From here, visitors can take in the columns and the clock tower.

Whether viewing from outside or in, though, there are several outstanding features and dozens of smaller ones of interest.

One of the more popular interior features is the Whispering Gallery. The result of the way sound waves move within an arched structure, a person can stand at one corner and whisper and be heard far away. It can be reached by a muscular climb up 259 spiral steps. Most find the effort well repaid.

Someone standing far away beneath the opposite side of an arch can still hear plainly what was said. There are often several pairs trying this at once, though. The sound is clearest if you can find a time when no one else is testing the effect.

But the main interest lies less with physics and more with art. One example is the 20-foot oak model representing Wren’s second major attempt at gaining approval for a design. Another is the large pipe organ, commissioned in 1694 and still functional.

Several other functional, yet artistic, elements are around the cathedral. One, Wren’s memorial, contains an epitaph from his son. It reads, translated from the Latin: ‘Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.’

Many other plaques, carvings, statues and other memorials to the powerful and famous of London’s past are within the cathedral: in the south transept Admiral Nelson, in the north aisle the Duke of Wellington.

There’s also a memorial in the south choir aisle of the poet John Donne, Dean of St. Paul’s before the current building was erected. The disastrous London fire of 1666, destroyed the original. Almost ten years elapsed before construction was begun, followed by more than another 30 until completion. That gives some idea of how construction projects were carried out 300 years ago.

Undergoing a £40 million ($71 million) restoration to celebrate it’s 300-year anniversary, many of the building’s surfaces have been cleaned and restored. Now is an especially good time to pay a visit.

The Cathedral is easy to spot and also easy to reach via the London Underground, i.e. ‘the tube’ or subway. Exit at St Paul’s station.

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Buckingham Palace

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on August 17th, 2008

Whilst among the most popular tourist attractions in London, Buckingham Palace is still the official residence of Britain’s monarchy, as it has been since Queen Victoria’s designation in 1837.

Much of the building was constructed as early as 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham House (as it was then known) was purchased in 1762 by George III, who used it as a private residence. Over the following 75 years the house was expanded to form three wings around a central courtyard.

Once Queen Victoria discovered the lack of several ‘necessary’ rooms – such as a formal ballroom, a nursery, visitor’s bedrooms and others – major additions were undertaken, including adding an entire wing to form a quadrangle. The Marble Arch was moved to Hyde Park, where it still resides near Speaker’s Corner. With the refacing using Portland stone in 1913, the palace underwent its last major alteration.

Nevertheless actively used as both residence and offices, over 50,000 guests and invited diplomats visit per year who interact with over 400 individuals for whom this is ‘the office’. Nevertheless, several parts of the palace are open to the public.

During August and September, the West Wing lets in visitors who can view the State Rooms. At some other times of the year, different parts are open, where holidaymakers can view spectacular jewels, dressing gowns, furniture and the building itself.

The Queen’s Gallery near the Royal Mews (stables and, later, a garage) is open year-around and has an ever ever-changing display of objects owned by ‘the British nation’. Here you will be able to see original paintings by Rubens, Vermeer, Canaletto and other great artists.

The Royal Mews are also open to the public, where you can see 30 horses and the golden State Coach. The four-ton coach, pulled by eight horses, is used for coronations and other state functions.

Outside, the 40-acre garden presents a peaceful walk full of well-tended flowers and shrubs and a superb view of the lake.

Of course, the major attraction outside is the ‘Changing of the Guard’, or as it’s more formally known: the Guard Mounting. Household Troops have guarded the Sovereign since 1660, but today the task is carried out at Buckingham by soldiers drawn mostly from the regiments of the Foot Guards.

A Guards’ band plays a traditional military march as one set of guards replaces the other. Whilst the Queen is in residence, four sentries stand at the front of the building. Whilst she’s away, the contingent is reduced to two.

In their traditional red tunic and bearskins, with the distinctive helmet, the guards are highly trained to avoid interacting with the many visitors who try to distract them. Sometimes, additional Commonwealth units take part in guard duty, as do the Scots Guards and the Brigade of Gurkhas.

The Guard Mounting ceremony is performed at 11:30 am and lasts for about 45 minutes, though it’s skipped sometimes owing to inclement weather. The Palace location is easily accessible by the tube (the London Underground subway system). Green Park is to the north of Buckingham Palace, Victoria Station and St. James Park stations are to the south.

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Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalagar Square

Posted in Modern & Historical Art, United Kingdom, Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on March 31st, 2008

The Fourth Plinth is located in the northwest of Trafalagar Square, in central part of London. It was originally built in 1841 with intention of an equestrian statue but had been left empty for numerous years.  Presently it is the location for specially commissioned artworks. Currently is featured Thomas Schütte’s Model for a Hotel 2007.

Trafalagar is London’s most famous public square which is home to Nelson’s Column. The square has a rich history and is  a platform for new artistic events and performances. There is also a cafe in the square, that is open every day, offering freshly made and locally grown food, as well as hot and cold drinks to enjoy. Trafalagar Square has also been a popular spot for film productions. 

When in London, it’s a must to visit Trafalagar Square and see the latest artworks at the Fourth Plinth.