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A Tour of the Architecture of London
The Art of Christopher Wren
If you’re going to look at Architecture in London, it’s all about Christopher Wren. In 1666, the Great Fire of London swept through much of the area that the London Wall surrounded. (As an aside about the wall, Romans built it in the 3rd century to defend the city.) After the fire, Wren designed 51 churches to replace those destroyed and as part of his architectural career, many other buildings that still stand.
So, to examine the impact of Christopher Wren on London, after you land at Heathrow Airport, head to the Tube and take the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters Underground Station (or towards Arnos Grove Underground Station) to Earl’s Court; from there take the District Line towards Upminster Underground Station (or towards Tower Hill Underground Station) and exit at the Monument station.
This aptly named station is located by the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the first item to see designed by Wren. One of the more notable features is that the height of the monument corresponds to the distance that it sits from the start of the fire on Pudding Lane. You can climb the stairs to the top of the monument, where you can get a view of London and think about how much has changed in the over 300 years since the monument was built.
But, some things haven’t changed, as a half-mile walk west on Cannon Street and north on New Change and west again on St. Paul’s Churchyard will bring you to what Wikipedia (and probably many other folks) calls Wren’s masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wren designed the fifth version of the church (the fourth was destroyed in the great fire) and it took from 1669 to 1711 to finish.
At this point, after traveling for several hours by plane to get to London and now tramping for about a mile, you’re probably ready to get to a hotel of some sort. Less than a half-mile from St. Paul’s is the Crown Plaza Hotel that has rates around $200 a night. If you’re staying in central London, $200 a night is a pretty great rate. (If you need to get to the hotel earlier, from Heathrow, take the same Piccadilly Line as before to Holborn. From there, take the Central line toward Hainault Underground Station or Epping Underground Station to St. Paul’s station and it’s just that half-mile walk by the Cathedral to the hotel.)
After dropping of your luggage and maybe testing out the bed, head west on Tudor Street, north on Whitefriars Street and west on Fleet Street to get to Temple Bar and Temple Church. Temple Bar is the marker of the western boundary of London and was marked with a stone gateway designed by Wren (that now stands in Paternoster Square near St. Paul’s Cathedral). Temple Church was home to those knights of conspiracy theorists, Templar and Hospitaller, and was untouched by the great fire, but was refurbished by Wren.
From there, a walk of about a mile along The Strand, to Duncannon Street, past The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, southwest on Pall Mall and eventually you get to Wren’s Marlborough House. The outside of the building is beautiful to gaze upon, but for tours inside, you’ll have to come on Tuesday mornings.
After all of the walking amid the hustle and bustle of tourists and the business of downtown London, a nice respite through the Buckingham Palace Gardens and west through Hyde Park will eventually lead you to Kensington Palace. Wren redesigned the palace which has a good deal of its interior closed until 2012, but there is an exhibit of fashion inside (for you and your lady) inspired by the princesses that have lived here before.
By now, your legs are probably tired, so head southwest to the High Street Kensington Underground station, take the Circle Line towards Victoria to the Temple station and from there it is a much shorter walk back to the hotel.
The next day, take a one and a half mile walk to Tower Hill (or the Circle Line from Mansion House station to Tower Hill station) and you can see one of the last remnants of the London Wall, walk across Tower Bridge and tour the Tower of London which combines a great museum, a castle and the Crown Jewels. From there, you can go to the Tower Gateway DLR Station and take the Docklands Light Railway towards Beckton DLR Station then switch to DLR towards Lewisham to Cutty Sark to see the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Not only is the original building designed by Wren, if you’ve ever wondered where the day begins, it is the longitude that runs through here.
If you need more information on the London Underground as you travel around looking for Wren’s other churches and buildings in London, here’s a link to a map and their home page. Have fun exploring the architecture of Christopher Wren and London.