The Barbican Center
The Barbican Centre, built after World War II, is a gigantic complex which blends function and form. Two-thirds of the City’s population live in the not exactly cheap high-rises (up to 400 feet/125 m high) named Shakespeare, Cromwell and Lauderdale Towers and located between Aldersgate Street and Moorgate (underground station: Barbican). It is not an easy matter to find the hidden entrance on the corner of Whitecross Street and Silk Street, but once inside you will be richly rewarded. On the ten different levels (four of them underground) of this cultural center, opened in 1981, your only problem will be choosing what to do: listen to a concert in the Barbican Hall, home of the London Symphony Orchestra; watch a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company; or see an experimental production in the associated studio theater “The Pit.” There are also three cinemas and a twostorey art gallery with rotating exhibitions. If you have had enough culture, you can recover in the open air by an artificial lake, or in one of the restaurants or coffee shops. At lunchtimes and on weekends, jazz or classical concerts are often given free of charge.
At the edge of the Barbican complex, you can still see remnants of the medieval city walls. Here, too, is the Museum of London, where you can travel through time from prehistoric times via Roman London and the Middle Ages before you arrive back in the 20th century. As the exhibits are set up according to the very latest trends in museum pedagogy – with an eye, that is, to entertainment- they’re thoroughly enjoyable for kids as well as adults. A multimedia show brings the 1666 Great Fire of London so near that you can almost feel the heat of the flames on your skin; and just before the exit is a splendid piece of pomp and circumstance: the gilded coach of the Lord Mayor, used once a year when the new Lord Mayor celebrates taking up office by processing through the City (the Lord Mayor’s Show takes place each year on the second Saturday in November).
The Old City Walls
To the east, beyond the Barbican Centre and the Museum of London, you will come across the medieval church of the Barbican district: St. Giles Cripplegate. As it was outside the city walls, this 16th-century parish church survived the Great Fire of London, but was gutted by German bombs during the blitz; it’s since been rebuilt. The name of the church alludes to the city gate which formerly stood here at the intersection of Wood Street and the London Wall. It was its location outside the walls which protected the church from the Great Fire. A previous church on the same site dated back to the 11 th century and was dedicated to St. Giles, the patron saint of cripples. Some famous Englishmen are buried here, including the writers John Milton and Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe. In 1620 Oliver Cromwell married Elizabeth Boucher in this church. To the left of St. Giles are remnants of the Roman City Walls. Nearby, a blue plaque indicates the beginning of the London Wall Walk, which follows the
route of the old walls for nearly 2.8 km.
The Financial District
Going east from the Barbican Centre or St. Giles Cripplegate, you’ll pass the renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama. From here it is not far to the wide thoroughfare of Moorgate Street, which leads south to Princess Street and the Bank of England (underground stalion: Bank). For the English, the “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street” is as much a part of the national culture as fish and chips or football. The Bank was founded as a private company in 1694; until it relocated to Threadneedle Street in 1734, its offices were quartered in the guild halls of two of the great Companies, the Grocers and Drapers. A museum was opened in the bank in 1988, documenting the founding of the bank, the history of the building, and the early years of banking in England.
Directly opposite the Bank of England is another building steeped in history: the Royal Exchange, founded in 1566 by Sir Thomas Gresham (his crest, the grasshopper, adorns the flag flying above the roof). Gresham’s building fell victim to the Great Fire; its replacement also burned down in 1838; and the third and present building, a classical design by Sir William Tite with a portico supported on eight Corinthian columns, was erected in 1844. Traditionally the accession of a new monarch to the throne is announced from the front steps. The tympanum over the columns depicts an allegorical figure of world trade, presenting the charter of the exchange to the Lord Mayor and merchants from various countries.
If you keep the Royal Exchange on your right and proceed along Leadenhall Street, which is the continuation of Cornhill, you will find a small side street on the left which leads to Leadenhall Market. This market was originally set up as a poultry market in the 14th century and was reopened in the 19th century. That it is located on the site of the forum and basilica of Roman Londinium is demonstrated by remnants dating from the late 1 st and early 2nd centuries. Unlike Covent Garden, with its slightly touristy artificiality, Leadenhall Market still has a genuine market atmosphere; and you can pick up some fresh fruit to restore your flagging energies.
A few yards further along Leadenhall Street is the new Lloyd’s of London building, a high-tech palace of glass and steel which was opened in 1986. Architect Richard Rogers placed the internal life of the building, pipes, ducts and conduits, elevators, stairs, and the like in plain sight in six towers on the exterior of the building, in much the same manner as he did in his Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
The Royal Exchange is only a few minutes to the Stock Exchange, which was founded in 1733. Since the reform of the Stock Exchange in 1986 (the socalled “Big Bang”), stockbroking has been largely conducted by computer and telephone, and this 1970s-vintage building sees less and less use by the brokers. The visitor’s gallery still allows a view down over the trading floor.
On the south side of the Bank of England is Mansion House; here, on the first floor, the Lord Mayor resides for the single year of his office. During this period he is the second most important person in the City, after the monarch, and has his own police force and jurisdiction. He is even informed daily of the day’s password for the Tower. Behind Mansion House is St. Stephen Walbrook, which many consider to be the most beautiful of Sir Christopher Wren’s creations. Outside, it’s almost drab, but the interior, divided by Corinthian columns, is illuminated with clear light that draws your attention forwards and up to the coffered dome. The church was built between 1672 and 1679, as a kind of practice run for Wren’s life’s work, St. Paul’s Cathedral. In one corner of the churchyard garden (open only at lunchtime) is a sundial by Henry Moore.
A few blocks to the north is the Lord Mayor’s place of work, the Guildhall. Of the original building from 1411, all that remains are the porch, parts of the Great Hall (used for meetings and celebrations), the crypt and the outer wall. The 18th-century facade with Gothic and classical elements was restored after the war. The stone wall of the Great Hall is worth seeing, decorated as it is with the arms of the twelve great guilds, or Companies. The Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Library and Guildhall Clock Museum are part of the Guildhall.