St Paul's Cathedral
Monument to the People of London
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St Paul's Cathedral information
Towering over Ludgate Hill, in a superb position that's been a place of Christian worship for over 1400 years, St Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most majestic and iconic buildings. For Londoners, the vast dome, which still manages to dominate the skyline, is a symbol of resilience and pride, standing tall for over 300 years. Viewing Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece from the inside and climbing to the top for sweeping views of the capital is an exhilarating experience.
The cathedral was designed by Wren after the Great Fire and built between 1675 and 1710; it opened the following year. The site is ancient hallowed ground, with four other cathedrals preceding Wren's English baroque masterpiece here, the first dating from 604.
The dome, the world's second-largest and weighing in at 59,000 tonnes, is famed is famed for sidestepping Luftwaffe incendiary bombs in the 'Second Great Fire of London' of December 1940, becoming an icon of London resilience during the Blitz. Outside the cathedral, to the north, a monument to the people of London is a simple and elegant memorial to the 32,000 Londoners killed.
Inside, some 30m above the main paved area, is the first of three domes (actually a dome inside a cone inside a dome) supported by eight huge columns. The walkway around its base, 257 steps up a staircase on the western side of the southern transept, is called the Whispering Gallery, because if you talk close to the wall, your words will carry to the opposite side, 32m away. A further 119 steps brings you to the Stone Gallery, 152 iron steps above which is the Golden Gallery at the very top, rewarded with unforgettable views of London. As part of its 300th anniversary celebrations in 2011, St Paul's underwent a £40-million renovation project that gave the church a deep clean. It's not looked this good since they cut the blue ribbon opening the place in 1711.
The crypt has memorials to up to 300 heroes and military demigods, including Wellington and Nelson, whose body lies directly below the dome. But the most poignant memorial is to Wren himself. On a simple slab bearing his name, part of a Latin inscription translates as: 'If you seek his memorial, look around you'. Also here is the Crypt Café and the excellent Restaurant at St Paul's.
The Oculus in the former treasury projects four short films onto its walls (you'll need the iPad audio tour to hear the sound). If you're not up to climbing the dome, experience it here (audiovisually). Free audio tours lasting 1½ hours are available. Free 1½-hour guided tours leave the tour desk four times a day (10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm); head to the desk just past the entrance to check times and book a place.