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Pigeons & Plinths
Trafalgar Square (London)
Member Name: MALU
Trafalgar Square (London)
Date: 11/01/11, updated on 15/04/13 (102 review reads)
Advantages: world-famous, yet intimate
When it comes to importance, Trafalgar Square, London, can be mentioned together with Tian An Men, Beijing, or the Red Square, Moscow. Situated in the heart of the city it's a tourist attraction and known world-wide. It ranks as the fourth most popular tourist attraction on earth and is visited by more than 15 million tourists a year. Size-wise, however, a comparison would be ridiculous. You can nearly organise a day out if you want to walk round Tian An Men or the Red Square, whereas you can walk round Trafalgar Square in no time.
Trafalgar Square is owned by the Queen in Right of the Crown and is managed by the Greater London Authority. So, anyone interested in putting a foot on Royal Ground only has to go there. Btw, the original name was to be King William the Fourth's Square, quite a mouthful. George Ledwell Taylor, an architect and landowner in London, suggested the name Trafalgar Square to commemorate the British victory in the Battle of Trafalgar from 1805 during the Napoleonic War.
Nowadays the central area is surrounded by roadways on three sides, to the east is Strand and South Africa House (and the underground station Charing Cross), to the south Whitehall, to the southwest the Admiralty Arch leading to the Mall, to the west Canada House. The street running in front of the National Gallery to the north has been closed to traffic since 2003. Now it's possible to walk from Trafalgar Square up a wide flight of stairs to the National Gallery. There are also a lift and public toilets, all in all a vast improvement. Traffic was always dense, and it was no pleasure to cross the street, and the more toilets in public spaces, the better.
The centre piece and landmark of the square is the 51m-high Nelson's column (the column is 46 m, the statue 5.5 m high) commemorating Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Admiral looks south towards the Palace of Westminster. It was built and erected between 1840 and 1843. Four huge bronze lions lie on the pedestal 'inviting' sportive tourists to climb up, sit on their backs and have a photo taken. It may be true or not that the lions are made from the recycled metal of French cannons.
The fountains on the square seem to have been included for aesthetic reasons right from the beginning when Trafalgar Square was built in 1845, but that was not the case. The square has always been a social and political meeting-point, not officially, however, no military parades here showing off the latest tanks and missiles as is the case on the other two squares mentioned above. In order to reduce the open space and the risk of riotous assembly the fountains were erected. The ones we see today are from 1939. Certainly nobody can imagine Trafalgar Square without them. How would people let off steam or show their high spirits if they couldn't jump into the fountains, preferably on New Year's Eve? Moscovites hack holes into the ice of the river Moskwa and have a swim. Each to their own.
Talking about Trafalgar Square means also talking about pigeons. The 'rats of the air' are everywhere even without being invited. But feeding and thus attracting them is one of the daftest hobbies someone can have. Hopefully, everyone doing this has already been sh*t upon profusely. It's estimated that the flock on Trafalgar Square consisted of about 35.000 birds at its highpoint (lowpoint, rather). They didn't only dirty the square and damage the stonework but were also considered health hazards. The sale of bird seed was forbidden in 2000, in 2003 the ban was extended, from then on feeding has been forbidden as well.
Last but not least the four plinths in the four corners must be mentioned. Three of them hold statues from the middle of the 19th century: George IV (northeast), Henry Havelock (southeast) and Sir Charles James Napier (southwest). The most interesting plinth is, of course, the fourth in the northwest corner which was to hold a statue of William IV, but due to lack of money it was never completed. Since 1999 several, often controversial, projects have been displayed, with and without official permission. Pity that the idea of erecting a statue of Moby Dick and calling it 'Plinth of Wales' was never realised.
From May 2010 until the end of the year 2011 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' by Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shoinbare stands on the fourth plinth. It's a large scale replica of the HMS Victory made with sails of African textiles. Shoinbare, "The sails are a metaphor for the global connections of contemporary people. This piece celebrates the legacy of Nelson - and the legacy that victory at the battle of Trafalgar left us is Britain's contact with the rest of the world, which has in turn created the dynamic, cool, funky city that London is."
Summary: one of the most famous squares in the world
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