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London is the capital of both England and the United Kingdom. It lies on the river Thames.
The City is the oldest part of London in the East. The East End, to the East of the City, is where many new immigrant groups and many working people live. The West End has everything from chic shops, theatres, beautiful residential areas, great parks and the famous Trafalgar Square.
The City of London has been a self-governing enclave from the 12th century and it is headed by the Lord Mayor.
Tower of London
William the Conqueror began to build the massive fortress - the White Tower- to impress and dominate the people of London in 1066. The Tower served till the 16th century as a royal home, a prison, an execution site, a royal mint and an observatory. There also used to be a royal menagerie. Now it is a museum where tourists go to see an arsenal of weapons, the Crown Jewels in the Jewel House, the prison where many famous prisoners were kept, the execution block where Henry VIII's wives, Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and philosopher Thomas More were beheaded. The Tower is guarded by the Yeomen Warders who still wear the uniform of Tudor times. Six ravens are kept in the Tower to protect the whole Kingdom. The legend says that the Kingdom will cease to exist when the ravens leave the Tower.
Next to the Tower stands Tower Bridge, the most famous bridge of London which is raised in the middle to allow ships to pass up the river. Built in 1894, it takes 90 seconds to raise.
St. Katherine's Dock (built in 1828) close to the Tower of London. For more than a century it bustled with commercial activity, now it has been transformed into a marina with a display of historic ships.
The largest and best-known church of the City is St. Paul's Cathedral. Sir Christopher Wren finished it in 1711. It stands on the site of the previous cathedral which was damaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666. St. Paul's is built in the Baroque style, the main nave is 170 metres long and it is crowned by a central dome which rises 111 metres, it is the largest church in the world after St. Peter's in Rome.
Inside the dome along the cupola runs the Whispering Gallery whose name refers to the remarkable acoustic which make it possible to hear words on one side whispered against the wall on the opposite side, which is about 30 metres. St. Paul's has seen many important occasions : Sir Winston Churchill's funeral service or the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981. Britain's heroes are buried there- Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren.
Not far from this cathedral stands the Monument commemorating the place in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London started. It is about a 60 metre-high column whose 311 steps lead visitors to the terrace from which they can admire a beautiful view of the city.
Today the cathedral is surrounded and over-shadowed by modern concrete and glass buildings rearing into the City skyline. This is the heart of London's financial and commercial interests represented by the Bank of England, the Stock Exchange, and the internationally famous insurance institution Lloyds of London.
The Houses of Parliament are the political centre of the United Kingdom, the home of the British Parliament. They were rebuilt in the Neo-Gothic style in 1840 on the site of the Old Palace of Westminster which was destroyed by fire. Almost the only remaining part of the old building, dating from 1097, is Westminster Hall. Great Britain, with its House of Commons and House of Lords, is the oldest democracy in the world today. The parliamentary system as we know it today, throughout the world, can trace its roots to the British Magna Carta, an agreement between a British king and his nobles to share power in 1215. The House of Lords is gothic, lavishly decorated in red, with the throne of the Sovereign, in front of this is the Woolsack, the seat of the Lord Chancellor who presides over the House. The House of Commons, more restrained in style, consists of parallel rows of green leather benches which face the table where the mace (a symbol of authority) is placed. The House of Commons is presided over by the Speaker.
97.5 metres above the Parliament rises the clock tower called Big Ben, one of the best known of London's landmarks. Big Ben is not really the name of the clock, it is the name of the bell (named after Sir Benjamin Hall who gained recognition for having had it made). The strike of Big Ben is known world-wide because it is used by the BBC as a time signal.
Facing the House of Parliament, just across Parliament Square, is the most important church in the country- Westminster Abbey, where monarchs are crowned and heroes buried. The History of Westminster Abbey goes back to the 11th century although many parts were added later.
You can see the Coronation Chair, made in 1300 and containing the historic Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish Royalty, which was carried off to Westminster by Edward I. Almost all coronations since William the Conqueror(1066) have been held there, and many British kings and queens are buried in the Abbey ( Elizabeth I, Scottish Queen Mary Stuart, Henry VII, Charles II, and of course Edward the Confessor, the founder of the cathedral). In the Poet's Corner are the tombstones and monuments to some famous poets ( such as John Milton, Walter Scott, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, William Shakespeare) but only a few of them are really buried there ( Geoffrey Chancer, Robert Browning).
Not far from the Houses of Parliament is Buckingham Palace, the London home of the kings and queens of Great Britain. Built in 1703 by the Duke of Buckingham, it was bought by George III sixty years later but Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live in the Palace since 1837. Outside Buckingham Palace the Changing of the Guard takes place to the accompaniment of the Guard's bands. In front of Buckingham Palace is the Queen Victoria Monument.
Trafalgar Square is said to be the largest in London and is a place of political demonstrations and busy traffic. It originated in the 19th century and its name commemorates the naval victory of Admiral Lorel Nelson over the French and Spanish fleet at Spanish Cape Trafalgar in 1805. In the middle of the square is Nelson's Column (about 50m high) with a five-meter tall statue of Horatio Nelson at the top. The column is surrounded by two fountains, several other monuments to famous people, and usually lots of pigeons.
The famous National Gallery forms one side of Trafalgar Square. The gallery was opened in 1824 but its building was completed in 1838.
A short way from Trafalgar Square along the Haymarket is Piccadilly Circus where Regent Street, Piccadilly, the Haymarket and Shaftsbury Avenue join and three underground lines cross under this circular square. This makes it the busiest and noisiest place of London. The most beautiful view of the square is at night when it is lit by many colourful advertisements. In the centre of the Circus at the top of the Fountain stands Eros, the Greek God of love, built by Lorel Shaftsbury, a famous philanthropist.
St. James's Park is the oldest park, one of architect John Nash's masterpieces. In the 19th century he created a lake with small islands which are the home of many water birds. The exclusive street The Mall separates the park from St. James's Palace which became a royal residence in 1699 after the fire had damaged White Hall.
Hyde Park is probably the most popular park among tourists. The main entrance to Hyde Park is at Hyde Park Corner in the South-East, the busiest London crossroad. In the North-East corner of Hyde Park stands the Marble Arch. But this corner in Hyde Park is best-known for its Speaker's Corner, the place where everybody can speak publicly without fear of being arrested for their opinions.
On the west, Hyde Park continues with Kensington Gardens. Here stands the Albert Memorial and Kensington Palace. This was completed in 1605 and later it was redesigned by Christopher Wren. Here lived Princess Diana.
Regent's Park is perhaps London's most elegant park with its attractive gardens, lakes and a zoo. The zoo was founded in 1826 and with its 6000 species it belongs to the most comprehensive collections of animals in the world.
London Underground, often called the Tube, is the quickest and easiest way to get around central London. Parts of the system are very old, the first line opened in 1863.
The main railway stations in central London for travelling outside the city are Victoria, Paddington, Enston, Waterloo, King's Cross, St Pancras, and Liverpool Street. London has three main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Heathrow is the world's busiest airport for passengers and air freight.
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