Lessons >>> Lesson 26
London is the capital city of the United Kingdom and Europe’s largest city with an area of 620 square miles. Its history spans nearly 2,000 years, beginning with the arrival of the Romans soon after their invasion of Britain in AD43. London is located in southeast England, on both sides of the Thames River. It offers many exciting attractions, fascinating museums, great galleries, clubs, pubs and restaurants, cinemas, opera and ballet. London is a bustling, growing and diverse metropolis with a population of 7.5 million people.
Today the Greater London administrative area comprises the City of London and 32 London boroughs including the City of Westminster. The City of London, also known as the "square mile", is the historical center of London. It is built on the site of a Roman outpost named Londinium. For a thousand years the City has been an important force in England history. Today this area is one of the world's leading financial centers. The permanent residential population of the City is now less than 6000, but about 350,000 commute here daily to work. The wealth and the power of the City comes from banking, insurance and selling of stocks.
London has been built up gradually in the course of many centuries. It was ruled over by the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Danes and the Normans. They each added something to English life.
When London was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 the City authorities rejected the plans of Christopher Wren (1632-1723) for a new city of squares and wide streets. They retained the medieval street plan and so prepared the way for London’s traffic jams, which were serious even in the days of horse buses. Wren did, however design 52 City churches and London’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s. The great globe of St. Paul's Cathedral glows golden in the fading sunlight as it has since the 17th century, still majestic amid the towers of glass and steel that hem it in.
The Great Fire did not reach the east of the City where William the Conqueror (1027-1087) has built a castle to protect and control London. The castle with the Tower was just outside the walls of the city of the time. Standing beside the river Thames, it formed a valuable defensive point. The massive pile has been at one time or another a citadel, palace, prison, mint, treasury, armoury, observatory and even menagerie. For many years it was the safest stronghold in the country. Kings imprisonment their enemies there and the gray stones of the Tower could tell terrible stories. Nowadays the Tower is a museum and a treasury where the English crown jewels are kept.
The river Thames has a length of 346 kilometres (215 miles) and it is the longest and most important waterway in England. This natural highway connects London with the North Sea. The river is easily navigable and so London has historically been a major port. Until 1749, there was only one bridge across the river: London Bridge. The old London Bridge looked very strange. There were houses and shops on the bridge. Now there are more than twenty bridges over the Thames in London.
Less than a mile upstream from the City is Westminster, which has been the seat of government for nine hundred years. Here the medieval kings and their palace and to it they summoned, about 700 years ago, the first parliaments.
Standing on the site of the old royal palace of Westminster, the House of Parliament is a very large and majestic building, a fine example of 19th century Gothic architecture in Britain. It stands on the left bank of the river Thames and it stretches for about 100 feet.
The Clock Tower of the House of Parliament faces Westminster Bridge. It is nearly 100 meters high. The clock was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, a minister under whose direction it was made. People are allowed to go inside the Clock Tower, if they wish, to see the mechanism of Big Ben. The faces of the clock are very large. The minute hand is 14 feet long, the hour hand is 9 feet and the figures are two feet long. The Great Bell has four little Bens round it. Big Ben strikes only once an hour, but the other four tell the quarter and half-hours. At the side of Big Ben there is a huge hammer weighing over 200 kilograms.
Across the road is Westminster Abbey. The resting place of the royals, Westminster Abbey is one of the most visited churches in the Christian world. Since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned there, the Abbey has been the traditional setting for the coronation of British kings and queens and for Royal weddings too. There are countless things to see in the Abbey: the exquisite fan vaulting of the Henry VII Chapel, the tombs and monuments of famous men and women, the life-size effigies of kings and queens. Here is Poet’s Corner where many of the greatest British writers are buried – Chaucer and Dickens, Tennyson and Hardy. Here are monuments to Shakespeare, Burns, Scott, Thackeray, and Longfellow. Here is the Coronation Chair, which contains the Stone of Scone on which Scottish kings were once crowned.
Trafalgar Square was laid out in 1829 to 1841 to commemorate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Dominating the square, on a column that is 185 feet high, is the 17 foot high statue of Nelson himself. Around the base of the column are the four giant bronze lions by Landseer. Around the sides of the square are the church of St Martin's in the Fields and the National Gallery which houses one of the world's richest collections of paintings
Buckingham Palace, the London residence of the Queen, stands in the heart of London between St. James’ Park and Green Park. The ceremony of the changing of the Guards takes place at 11.30 a.m., lasting 40 minutes inside the palace railings. A show of pageantry is the most famous of London's regular events.
The University of London is not so famous or so ancient as Oxford and Cambridge Universities, but is, in fact, much larger than either of them. It is made up of a number of colleges, schools, and attached institutes, which range from the London School of Economics and Political Science to King's College and several medical schools. The University of London has an outstanding international reputation founded on the quality of its teaching and research.
Not far from the University is the British Museum. Here is a place that is a veritable treasure house - a repository of some of the most priceless historical relics to be found upon the earth. It contains, for instance, the famous Papyrus Manuscript of Thotmes II of the first Egyptian dynasty--a thing known to scholars all over the world as the oldest extant specimen of what can be called writing.
The traffic in London, as in all big cities, is very heavy. Many English people use double-decker buses but most people prefer the Underground or the Tube. London was the first city in the world to have an underground railway.
London’s traffic pollution – one of its worst problems – is offset by surprisingly large expanses of greenery: Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park are all within a few minutes’ walk of the West End, while, further afield, you can enjoy the more expansive parklands of Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park.
Oxford Street is the busiest shopping street in Europe, with over 300 shops. It receives in excess of 200 million visitors a year and turns over Ј5 billion in revenue
London is so large and has so many historical monuments that even people who have lived in London all their lives often discover something new.
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