Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Monument and Great Fire of London

The Monument - view from top over the Thames to Tower Bridge, City Hall and HMS Belfast.

This photo from the Monument in London is part of one of the panoramic images found on the PanoramicEarth.com Tour of London. There are over 100 images taken from around London linked to an interactive map.

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The Monument was erected to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666 and burned for 4 days destroying about 80% of the city in the process. This is probably the single greatest calamity to befall London, not rivaled even by the Blitz of WWII. Such an event had to be marked, and so the Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (of St. Paul’s Cathedral fame) and built between 1671-7.

The Monument is not on the site of the start of the Great Fire, which started on Pudding Lane 202 feet to the East in Thomas Farynor’s bakery. However, the Monument is 202 feet tall thereby linking it to the site. In fact the Monument remains the tallest standing stone column in the world. The Monument is a hollow Doric column of Portland stone capped with a flaming copper urn symbolizing the Great Fire. On the North side of the Monument is a Latin inscription which translates as "In the year of Christ 1666, on 2 September, at a distance eastward from this place of 202 ft, which is the height of this column, a fire broke out in the dead of night which, the wind blowing, devoured even distant buildings, and rushed devastating through every quarter with astonishing swiftness and noise. On the third day at the bidding, we may well believe, of heaven, the fire stayed its course and everywhere died out."

The base of the Monument contains a bas and alto relief showing aspects of the Great Fire on the west side. Here London is personified grieving with the city ablaze behind her while Time lifts her up. Peace and Prosperity are in the clouds promising a better future and Charles II in armor is on the right.

In addition to being a monument to the Great Fire, the Monument was also designed as a scientific instrument. The co-designer with Wren was Robert Hooke, a keen physicist and together they installed cellar laboratory just below the ground floor. The top of the Monument opened to the sky turning the whole into a Zenith telescope, intended for studying the motion of the Earth around the Sun. Unfortunately the Monument proved to be too unstable for this type of experiment. In addition to all this, the steps inside the Monument were exactly 6 inches high allowing for precise measurements for experiments involving pressures and pendulums. Hooke did some work on the highly sensitive wheel barometer at this ‘Fish Street Pillar’.

Today the Monument has become an attraction with a viewing platform near the top. 311 steps ascend the inside or the Monument, and the stairwell is quite narrow making passing people coming the other way interesting. However the effort is more than worthwhile with panoramic views over London. Both the images on this page were taken from the top of Monument. The first picture shows the view towards Tower Bridge and the Tower of London with HMS Belfast moored in the river. (Free entrance with to all with the London Pass). In this direction you can also see City Hall.

View from the top of the Monument over the City of London

The second image above shows the view over the City of London with the gherkin shaped Swiss Rhe building clearly showing against the skyline. You will also be able to see the area around the Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (
Free entrance with the London Pass) and many other parts of London. On descending you will be presented with a certificate. The nearest tube station is Monument, though London Bridge is not far away.

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The full panoramic image taken top of the Monument can be found on the London tour by PanoramicEarth.com. An enlargement of this photo can be found with others from London on Flickr.

For more articles on London see the London Index or select one of the labels at the bottom.

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