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St. Paul’s Cathedral

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When visiting London, you will quickly learn about a man named Sir Christopher Wren, a prolific architect who designed dozens of churches and other buildings around London.  He was especially busy after the Great Fire of 1666, when much of the city was destroyed.  You will see his name everywhere, but his greatest work, and obviously the creation that gave him the most pride, was St. Paul’s Cathedral.

This big church (second largest in the UK) is located at the highest point in the City of London.  And Wren is still here — at least, his remains are.  Wren is entombed in the church’s crypt, under an inscription that reads “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.” which translated from Latin to English, reads, “Reader, if you seek his memorial, look around you.”

I would love to show you a picture of Wren’s tomb, or a hundred other photos of the incredibly beautiful interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but photography is not allowed inside.  It’s an understandable rule, when you consider that St. Paul’s is still a functioning church, and if thousands of visitors were taking photos everywhere, it could be quite disruptive.  So instead, I’ll share with you the pictures that I was allowed to take.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is located at the north end of the Millennium footbridge over the River Thames.  If arriving by Underground, you’ll want to take the St. Paul’s tube stop on the Central (red) Line.  Mansion House and Blackfriars stations are also within walking distance.

Admission to St. Paul’s is £14.50 for adults, £5.50 for children 6-18 years old.  If you’ve purchased a London Pass, admission is free.  Admission includes an electronic tour guide — essentially an iPod, programmed with audio guides and photos.  The church is open for sightseeing Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Once inside, I spent a while wandering around the ground floor of the Cathedral, staring up at the beautiful dome.  Then, I climbed the first flight of stairs, to the Whispering Gallery.  This circular level, 99 feet above the floor, is supposed to possess special acoustics, which allow you to clearly hear anyone whispering at any location in the gallery.  Quite honestly, I couldn’t hear anyone whispering.

  The 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery are followed by 119 more, which lead to…

…the Stone Gallery.  This circular porch surrounds the base of the dome…

… giving you a great view in several directions.  Here, you can see the City of London, along with the eastern end of St. Paul’s at the bottom of the photo.

On the other side, looking west, there’s a very photo-worthy view of St. Paul’s two towers.  The southwest tower holds a clock, along with four bells — one of which is the largest bell in Britain.  The northwest tower contains 13 bells.

You’ll also get a nice view of Paternoster Square, to the north of St. Paul’s.  It is home to the London Stock Exchange.

There are still more steps to climb — 152 of them — to reach the highest level of the church that’s open to the public.  The Golden Gallery is atop the dome, but below the lantern.

This is the only place inside the cathedral where I felt comfortable taking photos, since obviously, no one was worshipping here.  The network of spiral staircases squeezes in between the outer dome and the central “cone”, which provides structural support.  A third element of the dome, the inner dome, is the one you see from the church floor.

I think you can see the cone on the left, and the outer dome on the right — but to be honest, I’m not sure which way is up in this picture.  It’s a tight fit to squeeze through these passageways…

… but then again, it’s also a tight fit in the Golden Gallery — the small balcony that circles the top of the dome.  This area will be crowded, even of there are only a few people here, and you will need to squeeze past everyone as you make your way around the circle.

But all the effort to climb 528 steps, and all the claustrophobia, will be worth it, as you enjoy some of the best views in London.  The city is easy to see from here…

… as is the Millennium Footbridge, which leads across the River Thames to the Tate Modern Museum.

If you look directly up, you can see the architectural features that cap St. Paul’s landmark dome…

… and look straight down, to see dozens of double-decker busses and hundreds of tourists.

You can also see one of the newest buildings in the London skyline from here.  The “Strata” is a 43-story residential building, topped with three wind turbines, which are supposed to generate enough electricity to power the common areas of the building.  The Strata is located in the Elephant and Castle area of London (on the south side of the Thames), and was completed in 2010.

Look towards Westminster, and you can also see the London Eye, as well as the OXO tower in the foreground.

You can also look down at St. Paul’s western towers, which are topped with golden pinecones.

The limited space at the Golden Gallery will probably convince you not to linger.  Squeeze your way back down the stairs, and hope your legs hold out for the descent.

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