Guildhall Art Gallery review
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If you're anything like me then you find art galleries a bit boring, but the Guildhall Art Gallery is a bit special because it has something unexpected in the basement: the remains of London's Roman amphitheatre. But before you go inside, have a look at the big ring of black bricks on the forecourt -- that marks out the diameter of the amphitheatre underneath. It always looks a bit small to me -- it's more like a big wrestling ring -- so don't go expecting the Coliseum in Rome. If the Coliseum is the Wembley Stadium of amphitheatres, then London's must have been a Sunday morning kick-about pitch.
When you're inside you have to spend a bit of time admiring the art. Upstairs is where they put on their temporary exhibitions, which at the moment is all about Victorians. But you didn't come here to see that (trust me on this). Downstairs is much better, because that's where they keep all of their London scenes and landscapes. If you like your London history then this will be a treat, because you get to see what London was like before we modernised it. They've got pictures of old London Bridge in its hey-day (my favourite piece of architecture in the whole history of the city), and the old city burning in the Great Fire.
My favourite picture is probably The Heart of the Empire, which gives you a good idea of how St. Paul's really dominated the skyline a hundred years ago -- back when God was the tallest man on the planet. If you're standing in front of it whilst you're reading this, can you see that brown brick building in the centre of the picture? (With all the shop awnings along the pavement?) The next time you're in the vicinity of Mansion House have a look at what we replaced that with, and then have a little cry. We knocked that beauty down in 1994 and replaced it with a Toy Town office block.
After you've seen the pictures you can head down to the basement for the main attraction... the remains of London's Roman amphitheatre.
When you enter it through two very heavy wooden doors the room is all dark and gloomy, and dimly lit in yellow. There isn't very much of it left anymore, just a small section of the entrance way and a thin sliver of the circle. They found a couple of guard rooms as well (or maybe some animal pens), but what walls remain only rise to a few feet. But it's still quite impressive to stand there and wonder what it must have been like all those years ago. I think I would have made quite a good gladiator. I'm not exactly Superman but I think I can take out a lion -- how difficult can it be? I've killed a few spiders in my time, and they've got more legs than a lion.
They've added some atmosphere by pumping in the sounds of the crowd. (I wish they would play the sounds a bit louder, though, because it hardly drowns out the sound of the air conditioning pipes.) But they've also decided to decorate the background with bright green neon lights, which is totally out of keeping with the scene. They've drawn on some life-size gladiators in the space-age style of Tron (huh?). Why can't they just have a colourful painting of the arena instead? They've tried to be too clever, and ended up with something daft. That's what happens when you put a load of architectural artists in a room and ask them to do some brainstorming -- they should have just asked me to do it.
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