Trafalgar Square – A Place for Rallies, Demonstrations and Tourists:
Trafalgar Square is the centre of London in more ways than one. At its south end lies what used to be the Charing Cross memorial, the point from which all distances to London are measured. The original cross, erected by Edward I in 1290 (as a tribute to his wife, Eleanor) has long since been replaced by a statue of Charles I atop a horse. However, outside Charing Cross Station is a replica cross which was made in 1863.
Much of the area occupied by Trafalgar Square was the courtyard of the stables which served Whitehall Palace from the 14th to the late 17th century. The mews was put out of use by the Royal household in the early 18th century and the area was cleared. In 1812, John Nash designed the area to be a cultural space, open to the public and in 1830, it was officially named Trafalgar Square. The Square has enjoyed continual popularity since – sometimes to the regret of its sponsors. The large open piazza-style area is often the preferred site of political demonstrations, and has been from its beginning.
The centrepiece of the centre of London is unquestionably the 185-foot Nelson’s Column, with the 17-foot statue of Lord Nelson at its peak. This is fitting since the Square itself was designed as a tribute to Nelson’s military victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
At the base of the column are four large bronze lions sculpted by Landseer, sitting atop huge granite plinths – blocks of stone that serves as a base for a column or statue. Bronze reliefs at the base depict four of Admiral Nelson’s famous battles.
Once home to large flocks of pigeons, the tower and other structures have been rejuvenated after a program to radically decrease the bird population. A program not without controversy, as the pigeons were popular with many of the tourists.
Things to See and Do
The square, apart from being the intersection for several major roadways, holds a dozen things to do and see. All around are working fountains designed in the Neo-Classical style that formed the ‘look’ of public squares for centuries.
On the north side of the square sits the National Gallery, one of the world’s premier art museums. Along with one of the richest collections of paintings, the building itself is a work of art.
To the west is Canada House. Visiting Canadians can use the facility to read Canadian newspapers and send or receive emails, but the classical exterior is worth a look for anyone.
On the east side is South Africa House with a delightful display of African animals featured on its stone arches.
If visiting during Christmas, be sure to bundle up and come at night to see the tree lighting ceremony. A tradition since 1947, every year Norway – as an expression of gratitude for British support during WWII – sends a giant spruce or fir to London. The tree is erected and decorated and the Mayor of Oslo joins the Lord Mayor of Westminster to illuminate the tree. There are a number of 4-5 star hotels around the square and these tend to be quite booked out as people from all over the world come to join in London’s famous New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Less than a mile away are several other great sights, such as the Churchill Museum and 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister since 1732. Dr. Johnson’s house (creator of the first English dictionary and a writer) is about a mile away as is the British Museum, one of the world’s largest collections of artifacts.