Okay, first off, let’s get our words in order. London is a marvelous city….note the lowercase “c” on city. But The City of London is also pretty cool…note the capital “C” this time. What’s the difference? The city of London means the city as a whole, whereas The City of London is a section of London. It’s actually a corporation and works semi-independently of London (the city) itself, including having its own police force and mayor (who has the spectacular job title of Lord Mayor of the City of London).
Although very interesting from a historic standpoint, the last time Mr. Husband and I were in London, we didn’t make any time for The City except to wander over after touring the Tower of London to go gawk at the Gherkin. So, this time around, I did my research and planned a City day full of historical ups and downs.
Before our legs got worn out from a day of City sightseeing, I decided our first stop should be to The Monument. This 202-foot tall column was built way back in 1671 (completed in 1677) to memorialize the Great Fire of London in 1666. Christopher Wren cleverly made the height of column equal the distance it stood from the source of the fire – a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane.
Although it doesn’t look big enough when you see it from a distance, inside the column are 311 spiraling stairs that whirl you around to a viewing platform at the top.
Now, I’m normally a BIG chicken when it comes to climbs like this, but for some reason, this was a snap. The stairs are in good shape and there’s a handrail (aka “Tammie security blanket”) all the way up. At the top, even on a cloudy day, are some terrific views of London. And when you come down, you get a little certificate to commemorate your stair-climbing efforts!
Going Down in History
The City was the main heart of things when the Romans took over London a couple thousand years ago (the place was then known as Londinium). As they tend to do, the Romans built roads, built walls, built buildings, built marketplaces, and built arenas. When the barbarians took the Romans out of the picture around 500 CE, things went to ruin (although I think it’s fascinating that some of the streets in modern London still follow along the old Roman roads).
But ruined doesn’t mean All Gone and sometimes the unexpected Roman tidbit pops up. In 1988, some work was being done on the lower levels of the Guildhall Art Gallery and the workers ran smack into the remains of a Roman amphitheater. There’s not much left, mainly the entryway, some of the workings that would have been under the arena, and a portion of the arena walls, but since it’s completely free (and free of any other tourists when we went), it’s well worth a look. I have to say the laser-light-show-esque gladiators were a bit silly, but what can you do?
By the time we had climbed The Monument, played with the gladiators, and strolled around The City a bit, our bellies were getting a little empty, so we headed over to Leadenhall Market. There’s been a market here since the 14th century, but the current building, with its iron framework and glassy bits was built in the 1880s. It now has the fame of being used as in the Harry Potter movies as parts of Diagon Alley.
When I heard “market” I thought of an open air market with veggie stands and vendors, but Leadenhall is more like a mall with sit down restaurants and shops. Since nothing really appealed to our budget, we simply wandered around a bit and then moved on without even doing any magic wand shopping.
Walking Through History
Our final stop on our tour of The City was the Museum of London, which takes you through the history of London in a easy-to-navigate (and, like most museums in London, free) museum. But before you even enter the building, you get a little taste of history via an elevated walkway with a terrific view of the old Roman wall.
Although slightly kid-oriented, I did enjoy the Museum of London. It’s not as overwhelming as the British Museum, and objects are shown off in displays that put things in context. Also, although you can pop into any room you want, I liked how the galleries were organized so you literally walk from prehistory, through medieval and Elizabethan times, into Victorian and Georgian goodies, and onto the modern world. It’s like a history book brought to life.
Finishing Out the Day
By this point I was barely able to stand from hunger, so I dashed into the nearest Tesco for a bready hit of calories to tide me over until we found somewhere to eat. Once we managed to finally enjoy a very late lunch or very early dinner (not sure which), we decided we had the energy to stop off at Green Park and St. James Park (which I shared with you last week). Finally, it was time to head home and rest our weary feet.
I’ll be back next week with more of my London adventures. n the meantime, you can read more about all the Roman treats The City has to offer in this handy dandy little PDF guide produced by The City of London.
What bits of history do you find fascinating? Any addictions to or fears of climbing tall structures?