Wednesday

Days Out in London - Climbing to the top of St Paul's

The plan for the new St Paul's Cathedral had actually been agreed a week before the Great Fire of London broke out, a fire that went on to devastate the existing one along with hundreds of other churches, shops and homes in the surrounding area.


Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac



Its medieval predecessor had been in great need of extensive repairs since the night lightning had struck it a hundred years earlier. In fact, the prized gig had almost gone to the age defining Inigo Jones in 1633 but plans were put on hold with the commencement of the English Civil War.

Over the following years the great medieval Cathedral, once the largest building in England, was turned into a makeshift cavalry barracks with, at one point, 800 horses stabled inside.

Peace resumed and King Charles II came to the throne. St Paul's Cathedral was in dire need of restoration and Sir Christopher Wren was appointed. The plan agreed included an innovative dome centrepiece that had been inspired by what he had seen in France and by what he knew of Italian architecture.

Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Three hundred years on and it still makes an incredible impact on the skyline from every direction.

After years of admiring it from the outside it was time I ventured in to explore its interior.  My mission was to climb to the top and see for myself the view from its three galleries. 

Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac


What I hadn't expected was to find the interior of the dome as spectacular as the outside. Following the soft curves of the dome's interior, eight grand scenes from the life of St Paul are depicted in soft hues. Underneath are splashes of bright colour with gold mosaic tiles and painted figures that looked, to my western eyes, quite Byzantine.

No photographs are allowed of the interior so I just sat and stared upwards at the paintings that had taken Sir James Thornhill two years to complete.


Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac


However, there was more to see and I headed to the foot of the stone stairs to start the climb up 528 steps to the top and the Golden Gallery.

Split into three parts, the route to the top takes you to three separate viewing points. The first gallery is located inside the dome where you can walk its whole circumference or sit on benches that skirt the curved wall. It's called the Whispering Gallery and very polite officers make sure it stays that way.

Once you're ready for the next climb, another spiral staircase takes you to the outside and the Stone Gallery. There isn't access the whole way round this time but you can enjoy views of London's very modern skyline. In close proximity tower the new builds known as the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the Shard.

Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac



Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac



The final climb takes you up a narrow spiral staircase that looked like one of the old fire escapes outside the Regency buildings in Brighton, stilettos would not be a good idea. This took us up to a small circular room that had a small pane of glass in the centre of the floor. Directly above was the very centre of the dome and below the chequered floor where I had sat on a chair before I began my climb.


Another very short flight of stairs and we had made it to the Golden Gallery. Although you could not go all the way around you could see the Millenium Bridge crossing the river Thames, as well as the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern on the other side.


Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac



A little further around I could see Paternoster Square, recently redeveloped the area has fascinating links with writers from the eighteenth century. Both Samuel Johnson and Helen Maria Williams used a bookseller in Paternoster Row to collect subscriptions for books they had published.


Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac



Completed in 1715 it is still the second largest cathedral dome in the world.

Despite its magnificence I was surprised to learn that after King George I visited the Cathedral in 1715 no monarch visited it again for the next seventy-four years.

It was not until 1789 when King George III marked his recovery that St Paul's was used again for a Royal service. It was attended by thousands.


Days Out in London, climbing St Paul's, photo by Modern Bric a Brac



An individual ticket costs £18. Click here for information about visiting St Paul's Cathedral.

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