The area around Westminster has been the seat of the monarchy and government since the Middle Ages. The Royal family's official residence has been respectively Westminster Hall (from 1099 to 1530), the Palace of Whitehall (from 1530 to 1699), St James's Palace (until 1762) and Buckingham Palace (to this day). It is one of London's most interesting district, with more history and sumptuous edifices per square metre than almost any other places in the country.
Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
Sitting along the River Thames, the Palace of Westminster was built in 1840 in the Neo-gothic style, and is home to the Houses of Parliaments, namely the House of Commons and House of Lords. It is flanked by its famous Clock Tower (98m), commonly known as Big Ben, and at the opposite end, the four-spired Victoria Tower (96m).
The oldest part of the palace is Westminster Hall, built in 1097-99 by King William II. Its 14th-century roof is regarded as the world's finest and largest surviving hammer beam roof.
It is here that the trial of some of Britain's most famous names took place, such as William Wallace in 1305, Thomas Moore in 1535, Guy Fawkes in 1606 and Charles I in 1649 (see History of England).
Nowadays, the hall is used for the lying-in-state, i.e. funeral of major public figures, such as for William Gladstone (1898), King George VI (1952), Queen Mary (1953), Sir Winston Churchill (1965), Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (2002).
Opposite the northern end of the palace is Parliament Square, which is lined with statues of past prime ministers. Opposite the southern end of the palace is moated Jewel Tower, built c. 1365 to house the treasures of King Edward III. It now houses the permament exhibition Parliament Past and Present. (open daily 10am to 5pm, Nov-March until 4pm; admission £2.20/1.10).
Probably the most celebrated religious building in England, Westminster Abbey is not even a cathedral, but few other buildings have played a more important role in British history.
The legend has it that a shrine was founded here in 616. However the present abbey was built by Edward the Confessor in 1045-1050 to house Benedictine monks, and was consecrated in 1065, just one year before the Norman invasion. The abbey was rebuilt in various Gothic styles between 1245 and 1517.
The abbey is the where all English monarchs have been crowned since William the Conqueror in 1066, with the notable exception of Edward V, who was never crowned, and Edward VIII, who in 1936 watched his proclamation from a window of the nearby St James' Palace (he was also the only British monarch to ever abdicate). In that way, Westminster Abbey could be compared to the Cathedral of Rheims, where the kings of France used to be crowned.
Kings and queens were all buried here between Henry III (d. 1272) and George II (d. 1760), after which the burial site moved to St George's Chapel in Windsor. An impressive number of other notorious people were laid to rest here, including numerous prime ministers, and a good number of world-famous British artists or scientists, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Sir Isaac Newton, G. F.Handel, Dr Samuel Johnson, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, David Livingstone, Rudyard Kipling or Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Also of interest are the Westminster Abbey Museum, and the 900-year-old College Garden.
Tate "Britain" Gallery
Situated in Millbank, in the district of Pimlico, Tate Britain is one of the country most famous art gallery, with works by British artists spanning over the last 500 years. It has paintings by all the great British masters, such as William Blake, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, Spencer and a special section dedicated to J.M.W. Turner. A must-see for visual arts lovers.
One of London's great train termini, Victoria Station was originally two stations, the London, Chatham and Dover Station (built 1908-10) and the London, Brighton and South Coast Station (built 1898). The two stations were merged in 1924, although their distinct architecture is still visible.
Victoria Station has trains to Kent, Sussex and Hampshire (see Transportation). It is also a major Underground station, at the junction of the Circle, District and Victoria lines. Note that both National Express and Eurolines both have their main bus terminal there.
200m east of Victoria Station along Victoria Street is the neo-byzantine Westminster Cathedral, the motherchurch of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and seat of the Archbishop of Westminster. It was designed by John Francis Bentley and built between 1895 and 1903, although it wasn't consecrated until 1910. Its red-brick walls striped with white stone give it a clearly distinctive appearance.
Westminster Cathedral has the widest nave of any church in England. The great campanile, St. Edward's Tower (83m), dominates the edifice and is accessible via a lift for £2.
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