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Trafalgar Square was laid out between 1829 and 1841 to commemorate Admiral Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The two fountains were added in 1845.
The square has undergone quite a transformation in recent years, because there used to be an extra road of heavy traffic in front of the National Gallery. That has now been paved over, and the billions of pigeons that used to flock to the square to sit on the tourists heads have been banned as a health hazard.
The four big plinths in the corners of the square depict George IV and Sir Henry Havelock. The third plinth is home to Sir Charles Napier – a military man from the mid 19th-century.
The fourth plinth was supposed to contain a statue of William IV until they ran out of money, forcing them to leave it empty. In 1999 a project was launched to find a suitable replacement, and its currently housing a series of modern art sculptures. There are persistent rumours that it will eventually be filled by a statue of Queen Elizabeth II on horseback (but not until she dies – which hopefully won’t be for a very long time!).
Nelson’s Column dominates the centre of Trafalgar Square, standing 185-feet from top to bottom. The statue of on top measures 17-feet – slightly taller than three Lord Nelsons.
The four black pictures around the base depict the Admiral’s most famous naval battles, and are cast from the bronze of a captured cannon. The four battles are: Cape St. Vincent (1797), Copenhagen (1801), Trafalgar (1805), and the Battle of the Nile (1798).
The big bronze lions guarding the base of the column were designed by Edwin Landseer, and cast by Baron Carlo Marochetti in 1867.
Admiralty Arch is the large arched structure that screens The Mall from Trafalgar Square. Although it looks like a monument, it is actually an government office building with rooms inside, but there is talk of turning it into a 5-star hotel. It was commissioned by Edward VII to commemorate the death of his mother, Queen Victoria.
The National Gallery occupies the northern edge of the square, and contains the nation’s greatest collection of artworks by the likes of Botticelli, Cézanne, Constable, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh.
The East Wing contains British painters like John Constable and JMW Turner, and houses famous works like The Hay Wain and The Fighting Téméraire.
The National Portrait Gallery uses a selection of paintings, sculptures and statues to depict the faces of famous Britons, past and present.
The galleries are arranged in chronological order, starting with Queen Elizabeth I striding across a map of Britain, with storm clouds raging where the Spanish Armada sank into the sea. A picture of every British monarch then follows, with famous likenesses of Henry VII, Henry VIII and James I. You’ll also find pictures of famous commoners like Sir Thomas More, Sir Francis Drake and William Shakespeare.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields stands in the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square. Despite its tiny size and rather humble decorations, it has strong royal connections: it’s the parish church of Buckingham Palace.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I was going to do Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus today but I forgot to charge up my camera last night, and the damn thing died on me underneath Nelson’s Column. So you’ll have to settle for just Trafalgar Square instead. Maybe I’ll do those other ones next week.
When I used to come here as a kid the place was crawling with bazillions of pigeons, all hopping about and pecking at your head and hands for your burgers and buns. There even used to be an old guy selling little polystyrene tubs of bird seed in the corner, but they’ve all gone now. Ken Livingstone got rid of those when he was Mayor because they were a health hazard (apparently). Rats of the sky, is what he called them. And he done a very thorough job as well, because I don’t think I saw a single pigeon the whole time I was there today.
There was a bit of a sporty theme going on today because there was a load of kids playing football and doing press-ups. They were all very excited, for some reason. I don’t see what is so exciting about doing some excerise, but maybe that’s just my age. Some of the craziest kids were jumping on the concrete walls and balancing on metal barriers, posing on tippie-toes twenty feet in the sky.
I must admit they were very good, but I don’t expect many of them survived the day. Some of those walls were ten-feet high and they were running around on them like they were no higher than the pavement.
Trafalgar Square does have a few sights worth seeing. Nelson’s Column is the obvious one, and the National Gallery looks very impressive with its pillars out the front. St. Martin-in-the-Fields is famous for its classical music concerts at lunchtime, and its candlelit concerts in the evening. They’ve also got a brass-rubbing centre in the basement (I used to get dragged along there as a kid). It’s also a decent place for a coffee because they’ve got a little cafe in the crypt.
Admiralty Arch often gets overlooked because it’s tucked away in the corner, but you need to venture through it to find The Mall. The Mall is the big red road that leads directly to Buckingham Palace.
The four big plinths in each corner of the square are worth a look at. Three of them just have your normal boring soldiers and generals, but the fourth one houses a temporary art exhibit which has been changing every six months or so for the last ten years. At the moment it has a giant golden rocking horse on it. Don’t ask me what the meaning behind that is, because I haven’t got a clue – it’s just a big rocking horse. I’m sure the artist is trying to tell us something deep and meaningful, but who knows. It’s just a rocking horse!
Before that it had a big ship in a bottle on it, which was quite cool. I’ve also seen some horrendous modern art pieces up there, and some performance pieces, like a guy blowing up balloons and letting them go, and a girl dressed up as Where’s Wally.
Keep an eye out for the big statue of Charles I on horseback as well, directly in front of Nelson’s Column. That is supposed to mark the exact centre of London, and all road distances are measured from that point. You can also find the capital’s smallest police station in a pillar in the south-east corner… look for a little black door and a strange iron/glass globe on the roof.
> Read Craig’s latest review of Trafalgar Square “Noise. Traffic noise. People noise. The sound of water falling on the fountains. Flags flapping against their metal poles and the rubber on the bus doors squealing shut, motorbikes and bikes and cycles and cars… three million kids and six million parents. All standing with their cameras and handbags, rooting around for tissues and maps. Trafalgar Square is a very busy place. Trafalgar Square is where all the crowds come to celebrate. If we ever win the World Cup again (it’s never going to happen), then this place will be packed out… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree “The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree looks very pretty. It’s not lit up yet. It’s the first time I’ve seen it and it’s not as skinny as I thought it would be. Lord knows how they managed to ship the thing over from Norway – it’s huge! It must have been a bloody big boat. The ship is probably covered in pine needles now. I can’t see any bulbs and baubles on it either, but it’s a grey and gloomy day. The sky doesn’t look very happy. The clouds are all clumping up and merging into a dirty great sheet of grey. I think the rain is holding off on purpose… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of Nelson’s Column “The tourists have got their selfie-sticks are out in force today. I can count about twenty people brandishing their flagless flags, waiting the right time to pull the trigger and shoot. They look like an infantry line of muskets and rifles. They are all lined up around the base of Nelson’s Column practising their smiles inside the little two inch camera window… making sure the wind isn’t messing up their hair… rearranging their lips to show their teeth a bit better… making sure the landmark is right behind them so they can prove they were really here, and then… get ready… oh darn it!… now somebody has selfishly… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery “Do you know what the nicest thing about the National Gallery in the evening is? – the peace and quiet. I was walking here from Leicester Square five minutes ago and it was all busy busy busy. Pavements heaving, people jostling bustling barging elbows out, running everywhere, cars all over the place, sirens blaring. And then you walk through the gallery double doors and it’s all quiet like a library. Just a load of people shuffling around in silence, looking at the art. I can see why people come in here for their lunch break. It must make a nice change of pace from answering the phone all day, signing this and that, and getting shouted at by the suits in the office… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the National Portrait Gallery “The National Portrait Gallery is probably my favourite gallery in London because it appeals to history lovers as well as art lovers. It’s all about the sitters, not the painters. Admire the people, not the paintings. But that’s not to say that the paintings aren’t good, because they are – they still have pieces by Hockney and Holbein, etc. – but if they need a picture of a British hero and all they can find is an incomplete prep, then that’s what they’ll put up. It’s like walking through a Who’s Who of British history – a Panini sticker book of portraits. They’ve got every royal from Henry to Harry to Hotspur, with Anne Boleyn and Wallis Simpson along the way… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of St. Martin-in-the-Fields “St. Martin-in-the-Fields is famous for helping out the homeless, and whenever you come in here you’ll find a few of them kipping in the pews. There are two guys in here at the moment, gently resting their heads against the stone cold columns. The rain is knocking on the window and they’ve still got their hoods zipped up. I suppose when you’re homeless you expect it to rain wherever you go, even indoors. A couple of religious do-gooders have crept up on them and seem to be asking them questions and offering some help, but they haven’t shifted an inch from their slumbering pose, and it’s obvious that they just want to sleep. Thanks for your interest, he’s saying in his head… continued.”
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There are lots of London landmarks within walking distance of Trafalgar Square. Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus are just around the corner, and Covent Garden is only five minutes away. A ten minute stroll down Whitehall will take you past Horse Guards and Downing Street, until you end up in Parliament Square for Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
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