Prior to our week in London, I had a very romanticized view of what the city would be like. I often have done this before I visit cities: I read about them, watch movies or TV shows about them, and see Instagram posts about them. These pictures never live up to reality. Much to my delight, so much of what I had pictured and imagined London to be was real. It is a city rich with history and it really is a bookworm’s delight!
The history of London as an established city goes back to the Roman occupation of their client-kingdom, Brittania. Small tribes dwelt on the Thames for millennia before this period, but London wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the Romans. Around 43 AD, London became a central port for the Romans. It was strategically located on the River Thames (pictured above) and at the center of several Roman roads. London has grown into a city of 8.8 million people and its significance has only grown over the last two thousand years.
Although Jordan’s blog post was about our first two days in London and our day of Oxford, I thought I’d include a few of my favorite pictures from these days.
On Thursday, we braved the Underground and made our way to the Tower of London. It was a brisk and sunny day. We began the day with a Yeoman Warder (Royal Bodyguards) tour, which proved to be highly entertaining.
In 1066 William the Conqueror, a Norman, became King William I of England. He built a royal palace and fortress in the east of the city, now known as the White Tower, on top of an old Roman fortress. For the subsequent 500 years, this building was expanded upon and dwelt in by the kings and queens.
In 1220, 13 towers with inner defensive walls were built around the white tower. Then, in 1280 an outer defensive wall was built with 6 more towers. A 120-foot-wide moat was built all the way around, using the tidal flow of the Thames, by an expert from Holland.
The Tower of London is fascinating because it’s been a royal mint, a royal armory, and a royal zoo, among other things.
This palace complex became a well-known prison complex, and between the 12th and 18th centuries there were a lot of executions.
Thomas More was held in the strongest tower because he didn’t acknowledge the king as the head of the church. He was subsequently executed, in 1535.
The Yeoman Warders and their families live in the tower complex and are locked in at 10pm daily. The Crown Jewels of England are held in the Tower to this day.
After a wonderful time at the Tower of London, we made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Pictures were not allowed inside, so this is the only picture you’ll see from me of St. Paul’s. Pictures wouldn’t even begin to display the majesty of this structure, so I was okay with not taking any.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is Christopher Wren’s masterpiece of church architecture, built after the Great Fire. It was designed as an Anglican cathedral in the shape of a cross. The dome, as you can see above, is the natural heart of the building and the center of worship today. This is actually the only dome on an English cathedral. The quire, where the clergy and choir are seated, is where worship through music is centered and is positioned in front of the high altar, which faces the rising sun. The mosaics on the ceiling above the quire portray God’s creation and the fall and redemption of humankind. They were done in the Byzantine style, and have a glorious shimmering effect when hit by light. We got to sit in the quire when we went to an Evensong service, and it was a really incredible experience and something I’ll cherish for a long time.
One of the things I found interesting about the cathedral was a video illustration called “Martyrs.” This is the first video illustration in any cathedral, done by contemporary American artist Bill Viola. Fascinating, as it uses art as a shared language and slows down video to deepen our perception of who we’ve become. Here’s a link to the video if you’re interested in seeing what I’m writing about: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/2014/may/21/bill-viola-martyrs-video-st-pauls-cathedral
On Friday, we began our day at the National Gallery.
Here, we saw the art of medieval, renaissance, and baroque masters. The collection was extensive. We were there for two hours, and I felt like we barely scratched the surface! My favorite pieces I got to see were by Klimt, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Monet.
We then made our way in the cold to Covent Garden, which was all decorated for Christmas.
We made it back to Scotland safely on Friday night, and the next morning it seemed as though winter suddenly appeared!
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with friends on Saturday, and indeed have so much to be thankful for!