London’s Barbican Centre was erected in the 1960s and is home to numerous cultural exhibitions, art galleries and theatres. It also has residential flats, conference facilities and a shopping centre.
The Barbican takes its name from the ancient fortifications that used to surround the City. (A barbican is a watchtower that hangs upon a gate.) It remained an upper-class part of town for much of the 17th-century, but by Victorian times the working class had taken over.
Due to its proximity to the docks, it suffered plenty of punishing raids in the Blitz – German bombs demolished a third of the buildings. When the armistice came in 1945 the area north of St. Paul’s resembled a square mile of rubble. The high cost of reconstruction work delayed the diggers for a decade, and it wasn’t completed until 1982.
The resulting wash of concrete has been much derided down the years, but the original plans were of considerable note. They planned 2,000 apartments for 6,500 people – some in tower blocks over 400-foot high (the tallest in Europe at the time). They also included a Museum of London, the Guildhall School of Music, and a fully-featured arts centre.
Very few of the finished buildings are pleasing to the eye – the complex is deathly grey and cramped, and it’s all too easy to get lost in a dreary world of concrete constructs.
The ugly Barbican redeems itself when it comes to culture. The Museum of London has its buildings in the grounds, and you can catch concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra. A lively set of jazz, classical and contemporary pieces are played in the 2,000-seater concert hall.
Contemporary art displays are held in The Curve, and the gallery on Level 3, and art-house movies are screened in the art centre’s three cinemas. They even have some stage-plays and shows in the Barbican Theatre.
Tucked away amongst the block solid walls is St. Giles Cripplegate. It is one of the very few churches to survive both the Great Fire in 1666 and the Luftwaffe’s bombs.
It is the jewel in the Barbican Centre’s concrete crown: Oliver Cromwell was married here in 1620, and the grave of poet John Milton is hidden in the crypt.
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Murray Perahia playing Beethoven, Chopin and Brahms Barbican Centre Barbican
Violinist Nicola Benedetti playing Shostakovich Barbican Centre Barbican
Barry 'Dame Edna' Humphries -- Weimar Cabaret to Barbican Centre Barbican
Joan Armatrading, at Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
Holst, Britten, Birtwistle and Mark-Anthony Turnage Barbican Centre Barbican
Britten, Dvorak and Janacek -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
Sibelius, Janacek and Szymanowski -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
They Might Be Giants -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
BBC Symphony Orchestra -- playing Beethoven Barbican Centre Barbican
Smetana's Ma Vlast -- London Symphony Orchestra Barbican Centre Barbican
Stravinsky, De Falla and Lalo -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
Tchaikovsky and Szymanowski -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
Shostakovich, Kodaly and MacMillan -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
BBC Symphony Orchestra -- Music of Poland Barbican Centre Barbican
Shostakovich and James MacMillan -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
Haydn, Bartok and Ligeti -- London Symphony Orchestra Barbican Centre Barbican
Debussy and Strauss -- London Symphony Orchestra Barbican Centre Barbican
Dvorak, Debussy and Strauss -- Barbican Hall Barbican Centre Barbican
BBC Symphony Orchestra -- playing Tchaikovsky Barbican Centre Barbican
Shostakovich, Richard Strauss and Alban Berg Barbican Centre Barbican
If you enjoy this then try: Barbican Hall (you can walk there in less than 1 min); Cadogan Hall (catch the tube from Barbican to Cadogan Hall); Royal Albert Hall (catch the tube from Barbican to Royal Albert Hall); Royal Festival Hall (walk it in 28 mins or catch a train from Barbican to Royal Festival Hall) and Royal Opera House (walk it in 26 mins or catch a train from Barbican to Royal Opera House).