The area on the north-east side of the Spree around Nikolaiviertel and Spandauer Str was the oldest part of Berlin. I say was because the events of the Second World War virtually wiped the whole area off the face of the map. Very little remained intact, and although the Nikolaiviertel district was put back together in a way that only the communist authorities could have thought looked good, the wasteland that was once known as Marienviertel, has been left more or less as an open concrete space between the river and the TV Tower.
Marienviertel is no longer known by that name, but literally speaking it means St. Mary’s Quarter, which pays homage to Marienkirche or St. Mary’s Church.
The church was the only building to be re-constructed in the quarter after the bombing and is worth visiting if only for its historical connection. The original church was built in the 13th century and now stands isolated on the edge of an unnamed square and adjacent to Karl-Liebknecht Str.
I’ve often been past this church but it’s never been open, and so when I heard the bells chiming out one Sunday morning I thought that I’d take the opportunity to have a quick look around before the service started.
The bells were ringing out “Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clements” – although St Clement Eastcheap also has a claim to be the church referred to in the well known nursery rhyme.
The first church here did have a connection to Denmark, when Danish settlers married English women in the 9th century and dedicated their church to St Clement.
It was re-built twice before the Great Fire of London, but although the church was spared, it had fallen into a poor state of repair and Sir Christopher Wren was asked to re-design it. It was built between 1680 and 1682 with a spire being added in 1719 by James Gibb.
With so many other things to keep you occupied in Covent Garden it would be easy to overlook the simple church of St. Paul’s, but it’s worth a look inside even if only to take a look at the actors’ memorials that are scattered around the church.
Situated opposite the market, St. Paul’s was the first building to grace the Fourth Earl of Bedford’s square that was to be the focal point of his plans to develop the area in a manner more in keeping with an Italian piazza.
He brought in Inigo Jones to design the square including the church which was completed in 1633.
The large portico that overlooks the piazza is somewhat misleading because the entrance is around the back and entered through the pleasant garden. As you walk into the church you’ll see why the entrance isn’t through the portico because if it was you would walk straight into the altar.
St. Paul’s is one of those sort of churches that is likeable for its simplicity, but it’s the association with the nearby theatres which makes it different to most other churches, even having a theatre company of its own.
The connection started with the opening of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1663 and then the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.
A visit to the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields will be especially rewarding for people with a social conscience.
Centrally located next to Trafalgar Square, records show that there was a church ‘in the fields’ between Westminster and the City of London from Norman times, but the present structure was built by James Gibbs and completed in 1726.
Although the design wasn’t universally popular at the time, it wasn’t long before copies were being made around the English speaking world, particularly in the United States.
The interior is also interesting, from both a modern and historic perspective. The restored Baroque ceiling is extremely impressive as is the fabulous organ that was built as recently as 1990, but probably the most eye catching feature is the East Window. Installed in 2008, the abstract cross was designed by Shirazeh Houshiary and her husband Pip Horne. From a modern point of view I think this window is quite outstanding in its simplicity.
If somebody was to ask me to stick my neck out and choose one landmark that should not be missed on a visit to London, I think I would have to say Westminster Abbey.
Although I’m not a religious person, I do enjoy visiting some of our magnificent ecclesiastical buildings, and they don’t come much more magnificent than Westminster Abbey – but that’s only half the story.
The history of the Abbey is also the history of Britain, and for somebody like me who enjoys delving into the past, this building has it all, but before I expand on what’s here I think it’s probably best to get the unpalatable stuff out of the way first, so here goes :-
London has 31 Boroughs, 1 City (The City of London), and Westminster, which is both a Borough and a City.
Whereas the City of London became the legal and financial powerhouse of London, Westminster became the religious, royal and political centre.
This is the home of Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament, but it’s also the place to come for entertainment, shopping and culture in places like Piccadilly Circus, Oxford St and Trafalgar Square. I guarantee that you’ll run out of time – or steam – or both, before you’ve even scratched the surface.Continue reading →
I would hazard a guess that the majority of first time visitors to the City of London want to see St Paul’s Cathedral more than anything else, and it’s not hard to see why.
This magnificent structure built by Sir Christopher Wren, is more than just another church. It’s an architectural delight with a host of famous people buried within its walls – but more than that, for British people at least, it’s a landmark that is remembered for defying the might of the Luftwaffe during the blitz.
Before making your way over there it would be useful to know what to expect as it’s very different from Westminster Abbey.
Whereas Westminster Abbey is medieval in origin with gothic additions, St Paul’s is 17th century and has been described as English Baroque which seems a fair description to me even though I’m no expert on architectural terms.
Many people will know that Sir Christopher Wren was hired to re-build St Paul’s after the Great Fire of London, but perhaps not so many people will know that the Norman church that stood here until 1666 was one of the biggest in Europe, if not the world, with a spire that reached close to 150m high. It wasn’t just the height of the church that made it impressive but also its length.
In my Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 review I gave James Wyatt a bit of a rough time for his so-called improvements to the church, but I’m going to give ’Wrecker’ Wyatt a bit of credit here for a change.
Between 1789 and 1792 he embarked on his mission to improve the Cathedral and its surroundings including the churchyard which was situated in an area of swampy marshland. He removed the tombstones, drained the swamp, and created a landscape fit for a Cathedral.
It now stands in the centre of a large enclosed Green known as ‘The Close’, which is entered by one of three gates – the North Gate, St. Ann’s Gate, and Harnham Gate. Inside these gates is an oasis of peace and tranquillity no matter how many people come to visit the Cathedral. This is the largest Close in England with plenty of room for everyone and the buildings surrounding it are an absolute architectural delight. They’ve evolved over the centuries into a harmonious composition of different styles.
Having explained how the new Cathedral came about in Salisbury Cathedral Pt 1, I’d like to talk a bit more about the building itself.
To start with I don’t suppose any building that’s been around for almost 800 years would have been untouched in any way, and of course Salisbury Cathedral is no exception, but the good news is that this remarkable church is still essentially the same as when it was built.
There have been a few hiccups along the way mind you including the removal of many of the stained-glass windows during the Reformation, and even some damage during the Civil War, but as was often the case, well-meaning restorers probably did the most amount of damage.
According to the official Salisbury Cathedral guidebook, the late 18th century saw James Wyatt clear the churchyard, demolish the Bell Tower, lime-wash the vaulting, cover medieval paintings, and remove even more medieval glass.
It wasn’t all bad news though. If you take a look at the West Front, you’ll find that there are 79 statues adorning the façade, and 72 of them have been added since the 19th century. George Gilbert Scott was responsible for most of them during his period of restoration between 1860 and 1876, and I reckon the West Front looks fantastic.
My favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, said in his book ‘Notes from a Small Island’, that “There is no doubt in my mind that Salisbury Cathedral is the single most beautiful structure in England and the Close around it the most beautiful space”, and who am I to argue with Bill Bryson? It’s only his opinion of course, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who would agree with him.
If you’ve been to Old Sarum, you would have seen the Iron Age Hillfort where William the Conqueror built a castle, and successive Bishops built the first Salisbury Cathedral, but conditions were less than ideal for the clergy who lived here. It was windswept and cramped, and they didn’t get on too well with their neighbours in the castle either, and so early in the 13th century they decided to relocate down to the valley below.