Where does one start when attempting to inform about London? The Long-standing capital city of England and latterly the United Kingdom, London was always an international city. It built a reputation on trade and was famed for its cosmopolitan nature, being always full of people from all four corners of the British Isles, Europe and further afield.
London harbours a long and illustrious history and as such offers an almost limitless variety of cultural and historical attractions for the visitor. Since its founding in around AD 43 by the Romans, London has been influenced by many cultures. Some half a million years before the first Roman settlement, hunter gatherers lived along the River Thames, whose fertile soils and numerous tributaries offered a good location for establishing settlements. Soon the 2012 Olympic Games will be held in London.
It is the Romans, however, who had the first real lasting impact on London. After crossing the Thames probably at Westminster, not too far from where London Bridge is presently situated, the invading Roman legions rested and waited for their Emperor, Claudius. Upon arriving he started his conquest of Britain. Pacification of Britain's tribes, however, was not easy and bitter conflict between the invader and the indigenous peoples continued for many years. London, or Londinium, to give it is contemporary Roman name, was witness to particular savage warfare. In fact so fierce was the fighting that the Romans decided to evacuate the town, not before burning it to the ground. Evidence of the fire can still be seen today in layers of orange-burnt clay and pottery shards excavated in the area of Lombard St, Gracechurch St and Fenchurch Street.
Defeat for the British tribes, however, was not long in coming. The final stand-off between the Romans and the English tribes took place somewhere in the Midlands in AD 60, when the Iceni tribe, led by the warrior queen, Boadicca (Boudicia), was routed by a superior Roman force. Boadicca, so the Roman historian Tacitus reports, killed herself. Legend has it that following an ostentatious funeral, she was buried, complete with her chariot, beneath the burial mound on Parliament Hill, on Hampstead Heath. A statue of the warrior Queen in a scythe wheeled chariot now stands at the northern end of Westminster Bridge.
The Romans were to remain in Britain for the next 400 years and their legacy was to be a lasting one that can be still seen today. London became the capital of their British empire at around AD 100. Today's London is built about 20 feet above that of the Roman city and every time construction begins of a modern high rise building, Roman ruins are uncovered. The most visible sign of Roman London is the wall, built for defensive purposes at around AD 200, surrounding an area that is known today as the City. Remains of the wall can be seen at the edge of the Barbican, and is marked by a street called London Wall, and just north of Tower Hill. The walled area marks the site of the original city of London. Then, as now, it was the hub of London's trade and commercial life. By the time London became the fifth largest city in the Roman empire it boasted a population of around 50,000 people.
With the departure of the Romans during the early part of the 5 th century London steadily fell into the hands of the Saxons, although there are few historical records to indicate how this actually happened. We do know, however, that by the turn of the 7 th century London was still, or had once again, become a major city. The period was marked by the arrival of St Augustine to England in 597 at the behest of Pope Gregory I and the subsequent founding of St Paul's Cathedral by the Kentish king, Aethelberht I.
Apart from a few scattered snippets of information, nothing is known about London's history until the 9 th century and the wars between the Saxons and Vikings; it was the time of Alfred the Great (849-899). London as we know it, however, did not develop until the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), whose ample energy and resourcefulness we owe such great buildings as the Abbey at Westminster and the royal palace next to it. It was under Edward that the old City of London was to be appended by a new and complementary centre, Westminster, which was to develop into the administrative centre of England and later the Empire.
By the middle of the 11 th century London, as well as the rest of England, was subject to the invasions by the Normans, the last foreign people to conquer England. London's pre-eminence as a financial and political centre was confirmed when the first Norman king of England, William I (the Conqueror 1027-1087, king of England from 1066) selected Westminster for his permanent residence and seat of government. His massive fortification known today as the Tower of London by the river Thames in Westminster, attests to his long-term plans for the city.
By 1085 London boasted between 10,000 and 15,000 inhabitants, making it the largest European city north of the Alps. By 1300 its population had grown to 80,000 and despite experiencing the ravages of the Black Death between 1348-49, which claimed some 10,000 lives, London continued to grow unabated. Under the Tudors London expanded greatly as a trade and commercial centre, its population reaching 200,000 by the close of the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). It is to this period that London owes some of its greatest palaces, notably the Royal Palace of Whitehall, St James Palace and Hampton Court Palace.
During the 17 th century London experienced continued expansion despite being hit by two great disasters, the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666. Combined the two events were to change the face of London for good, the former claiming around 100,000 lives, the latter destroying virtually every building within the 160 hectares of the old City. The fire did, however, have an important side-effect as far as London future development was concerned in that in reducing the old wooden dwellings to ashes it paved the way for London's reconstruction on a massive scale. Under the direction of Christopher Wren a great building boom was to sweep across London that would continue for the next 100 years. During this period vast new estates emerged - the Strand, Holborn, Spitalfields, Soho, Mayfair, St James's - developed by some of the great aristocratic families who would later give their names to many of London's areas - the Portmans, the Camdens, the Sloanes, the Grovesnors. The construction of lavish new buildings followed suit, giving London much of its distinct historical character with which we are familiar today - St Paul's Cathedral, Mansion House, the Bank of England, the British Museum, Trafalgar Square.
From the late 18 th century to 1914 London took over from Amsterdam as the foremost internal commercial and trade city, symbolised by the Great Exhibition of 1851. Profits derived from the Industrial Revolution were channelled into London's continued development. A new network of museums emerged, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. Vast train and underground networks were built and by the middle of the 19 th century London's population was to exceed 2.5 million. 50 years later it stood at over 6.5 million. Although during the 20 th century London would face growing competition as a commercial centre from other cities around the world, it retained its reputation as a leading international city. Its building boom continued during the inter-war years, generating a massive expansion of its suburbs. The Blitz of the Second World War put a temporary halt to London's development, destroying 3.5 million buildings and claiming 30,000 lives of its inhabitants. Yet out of the disaster came an incredible recovery which witnessed major development of London's infrastructure. It acquired several new airports, notably Heathrow and Gatwick and more recently, Luton, Stanstead and the City Airport. The de-industrialisation of many of London's areas provided further impetus for development, notably in its docklands where several new residential and commercial developments sprung up. During the 1980s the M25 orbital motorway was built that not only enabled vehicles to by-pass London, thereby greatly reducing inner city congestion, but also greatly improved London's transport network and access to the rest of the country. The 1990s, in turn, witnessed the completion of one of the greatest engineering projects of all time, the Channel Tunnel, which provides easy rail access form London to the rest of Europe.
The 21 st century is upon us and London has remained the vibrant, progressive international city it has always been. As any major city, it contains rough edges and defects but it remains a compelling city, full of vitality and get-up-and-go. It continues to harbour that curious blend of conservatism and modernism that has always given it that magic which other cities lack. But despite its undoubted modern outlook, it boasts two millennia of history that are ripe for you to explore.
Historical Places to visit in London:
* Roman Londinium
* Buckingham Palace
* Houses of Parliament
* Greenwich & Greenwich Park
* Hampton Court
* St. James's Palace
* Inns of Court LONDON
* St Paul's Cathedral
* The Tower of London
* Trafalgar Square
* Westminster Abbey