Monday, 13 September 2010

Mayor's Thames Festival

From atop the Monument

Guess what. On Sunday we ended up in the City again. Can't seem to avoid it. This time only for a short time, though. We were on our way to the Mayor's Thames Festival, an annual event marking the end of summer. Activities of all sorts take place on both banks of the Thames: entertainment, a fairyland for kids, art exhibits, carnival parade at night followed by fireworks.

The City is on the north bank of the Thames, and we happened to exit the tube at the Monument station which lies in the City. Before crossing the London Bridge to Southwark, the borough on the south side of the river where most of the fun stuff seemed to be happening, we spent some time at the Monument. All London school children, we are told, learn four important dates: 1) the founding of London by the Romans in about 44; 2) the Battle of Hastings, where William the Conqueror and his Normans defeated the Saxons in 1066; 3) The Great Fire of London in 1666; 4) England's only World Cup victory in football in 1966. The Monument commemorates the Great Fire. The pillar is 61 meters high, which is exactly the distance from the tower to the baker's shop on Pudding Lane where the fire started early Sunday morning September 2, 1666. Whether there is a similar memorial in honor of the World Cup victory we have yet to discover.

On Pudding Lane, near where the Great Fire started in the baker's shop.
The fire raged four days until the following Wednesday, destroying 4/5ths of London. The only structures to survive were those built of stone or brick. There had been frequent fires in London prior to the Great Fire, but none with its destructive power. According to a guide on one of the tours we took earlier in our visit, many people had left the city to escape one of the periodic onslaughts of the plague, leaving the London with fewer people to extinguish the flames. The law that all buildings in London must be built of stone or brick (or more recently steel and concrete) dates from this time. The purpose, of course, is to prevent such a disaster from occurring again. The Monument was designed by the Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul Cathedral, which was also built after the Great Fire to replace the original wooden and medieval St. Paul.

A frieze on the Monument

In case you were wondering, as I did, the Clash's song London Burning has nothing to do with the Great Fire.

We climbed the 331 steps of the tower to get sweeping views of London. We were lucky enough that the day was clear and sometimes sunny. The Monument seems dwarfed now with all the tall buildings in the vicinity, but it must have been towered over the London rooftops before WWII.

The Ferris wheel in the background is the London Eye.

This pub is near the Monument. We walked past it down to the Thames. We were near the London Bridge, which we walked across to Southwark, a London borough bordering the river. The festival is a two day affair and attracts about a half million people each year.

This dragon guards the south side of London Bridge. Almost wherever we see dragons, that's an indication of the City (the one-square mile version) of London. This side of the bridge, Southwark, used to be the area where people of disrepute, such as actors, once lived. As a consequence some of London's oldest theatres are here, and some of the most prestigious, as well. The National Theatre is on this side of the river, overlooking it.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is right on the river, and you can see it on the right. We're scheduled to see a play there, perhaps The Merry Wives of Windsor. Benedict will probably go with us.

Fountain in the walkway in front of City Hall with the Tower Bridge in the background.

Tower Bridge being built of chocolate.
City Hall

The Millenium Bridge with St. Paul Cathedral

A Bengal tiger being group-sculpted.

The London Eye, across the Thames from Westminster. Great views of London, if you have the patience to wait for it to take one revolution. It moves very, very slowly.

The highlight came after dark with the Carnival parade. The parade was followed by fire works, but we were too tired to stay for that. Here are some photos from the Carnival.

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