The City and Tower Tour
LONDON, ENGLAND June 30th – A lively young voice with a crisp British accent spoke clearly into my ears through my iPod headset. The voice was laying a pleasant historical foundation for what I was seeing, telling me about this and that building, asking me to pause and look that way as she was describing historical street scenes, and moving me from “Point A” to “Point B” – all the way through the alphabet it seemed – before we finished “London: The City and the Tower” tour. It is true, there were 24 stops with point-of-interest commentaries over the 3-mile course. It’s Saturday and the City of London (Financial District) is very quiet. This will be fun!
This self-guided walking tour was an excellent idea. If you are inclined, you can purchase and download the MP3 format audio tour for London at www.AudioSteps.com and you’ll be remarkably surprised. The price is equivalent to the cost of a meal, but you can reuse the recordings even copying them to CDs. The narrator, Sally Beaumont, moves the tour along at a quick clip. However, because you have it on your iPod or iPhone, you can easily pause the tour narration and take a break, have lunch, or shop and then come back to the tour later. Want to refresh the details of a previous point of interest? Just re-wind and re-visit the narrative stage you wanted to hear again. Now, onwards….
Paternoster Square, home of the London Stock Exchange, is the first main stop at the beginning of the walking tour. The Square contains this 23-meter high replica of one of the original columns from the portico of the St. Paul’s which burned in the Great Fire of 1666. This monument, the largest erected in London in over 100 years, is made of Portland stone and is lit at night by fiber optics. The prominent dome of the present St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed and built by Christopher Wren, is seen in the background.
I came upon the above sign between Paternoster Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral, looking around I noticed hundreds of men wearing the same black priest’s cassock. They were actively engaged in filming sequences for the second installment of the National Treasure movie series called “Book of Secrets”. Between Dan Brown and the Temple, National Treasure’s secret book, some Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes, add a little Jeckle and Hyde, and the Werewolf saga and you’ve got a real explosive mixture here in London!
Four cathedrals have stood on this site since the 7th Century. The third one had a 489-foot spire and was completed in 1283 after a two-hundred year construction cycle – dominating the landscape then, and easily the tallest structure in England if it stood today. That spire fell down in 1561, which initiated the complete reconstruction and new dome design led by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire left the cathedral in ruin in 1666. Wren’s legacy included 51 unique churches throughout London and led to his knighthood in 1673. Christopher Wren lies in rest in the Crypt under the Sanctuary of St. Paul’s with this classic epitaph:
Thomas Becket (1118 – 29 December 1170), later also known as Thomas à Becket, was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after the death of Thomas Becket, Pope Alexander canonised him and the murdered priest was elevated to sainthood.
Leadenhall Market: built in the Victorian Era on the site of a Middle Ages marketplace where “foreigners” (non-Londoners) were allowed to sell produce and poultry, is named after a 14th Century mansion with an unusual lead roof.
The Great Fire of London in 1666 changed the face and future of the city. This fluted Doric column (below) designed by Christopher Wren is the tallest free standing stone column in the world, and is exactly 202 feet high – the same distance from the monument to the source of the historic fire: a bakery on Pudding Lane. The Monument is open to the public and has a viewing gallery at the top of the 311 steps which encircle the interior. You can even take away a certificate of your achievement!
Just after midnight on the 2nd of September 1666, a fire started in Thomas Faryner’s bakehouse on Pudding Lane, and by the evening of the 3rd of September fully one-half of London had been consumed by the flames. Three days later, most of London had been destroyed. 87 churches including St. Paul’s Cathedral and 13,200 houses were decimated by the great fire, though only five people were reported to have died. That was one bit of bright news to come from the tragedy, another was probably even more dramatic: the fire brought to an end a serious plague which had killed thousands and thousands of Londoners in the months preceding the fire. It took over six years to rebuild the city, preserving the twisty old medieval street layout which Christopher Wren fought vainly to re-design into a more modern cityscape.
The Tower of London, first established as a military bastion on this Thames-side location by King William I as a symbol of his authority over his newly acquired Empire, later replaced with stone works and the central “White Tower” which was built in the 12th Century of Cairn Stone from Normandy. The Beefeaters, special guard who are stationed at the Tower, have served the King and guarded the Crown Jewels at this location since the reign of King Henry VIII.
Up the street from the Tower of London, next to Tower Hill and the Underground Station of the same name, you’ll find a section of original ancient Roman wall, identifiable by the course of red brick laid in horizontal layers to give the stone wall strength, and a statue depicting a Roman citizen from that era nearly 2,000 years ago. Layers of millennia through which this metropolis has endured are stacked in thin bands along and above this wall, each layer silently holding onto memories and tales that will never be revealed. The city hums and buzzes by, hardly noticing the green swale and chiseled stone that mark its beginnings.
End of The City and Tower Tour, next: “The West End”.