Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle
TRAFALGAR Square is one of the most famous squares in the world.
Situated in the very heart of London, at the intersection of Pall
Mall, Charing Cross Road, The Mall and The Strand, it's primarily
a tribute to one of Britain's great naval heroes, Admiral Nelson,
who, in 1805, made the ultimate sacrifice defending his country
from the French and Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Fittingly, his 18ft high statue, resting upon a 170ft high column,
dominates the square.
Looking up, or across from the London
Eye for that matter, the whole thing seems very much smaller
than its dimensions would suggest.
But an indication of its true size lies in a little known fact
- that 14 stonemasons actually dined on the flat top of the column
before Nelson's statue was installed.
At its base and seeming to guard the column, are Sir Edwin Landseer's
four, huge, bronze lions resting on granite plinths. Tolerant
in the extreme, they remain unperturbed by the thousands of visitors
who use them as photo props.
The fountains, the design of Sir Edwin Lutyens, complete the
tableau. The glistening sculptures of mermaids/men and dolphins
are particularly beautiful when sunlight illuminates the spray
and as such, have been photographed many times (see our photo).
Trafalgar Square's original, neo-classical design of the 1820's,
was the inspiration of John Nash. It was, however, modified in
1840, by architect, Charles Barry, who created the northern terrace
and installed steps - much as it is now, and a far cry from the
days when Dr Johnson frequented what was then, part meeting place,
part mews for the royal hawks and later, royal stables.
Apart from Nelson, several lesser statues adorn the square. Set
on large pedestals, two commemorate the Indian army heroes, Sir
Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock, while a third is an equestrian
statue of George IV. A fourth pedestal acts as a platform for
There is, however, a fourth statue - that of Charles I on horseback.
It stands on a traffic island at the south end of the square,
on what was the original site of Charing Cross.
Charing Cross was, in fact, the last of 12 crosses erected by
Edward I in 1290, to mark the 12 resting places of his wife, Eleanor's
funeral cortege, as it journeyed from Nottinghamshire to Westminster
Abbey. It was removed during the Civil War, but a replica now
stands in the forecourt of Charing Cross Station.
And if, like me, you've ever wondered from what point all 'distances
from London' are measured, Charles I marks the spot.
Also worthy of note are the buildings bordering the square. On
the north side is the National Gallery, home to masterpieces by
Leonardo Da Vinci and Rubens and next to it, the National Portrait
Gallery where, among Britain's sovereigns and heroes, hangs a
painting of Emma Hamilton, the wife of Sir William Hamilton, and
the mistress of Nelson.
Close by, in the north-east corner of the square, is the church
of St Martins-in-the-Fields, while further along, on the east
side, stands South Africa House. Pause for a moment, and you will
see African animals featured on its stone arches.
Across the square, on the west side, is Canada House, where visiting
Canadians can read newspapers from home, surf the internet and
even send and receive e-mails.
Trafalgar Square is a popular venue for rallies and public meetings
and each year, at Christmas time, a giant spruce tree stands there
- a gift from the people of Norway, in gratitude for Britain's
part in the liberation of their country during World War II.
Decorated with hundreds of lights and a focal point for carol
singers, it embodies the true spirit of Christmas.
And, of course, there are the pigeons - as much a part of the
square as Nelson himself. But feed them at your peril - a few
crumbs and you could, quite literally, be swamped!
For more on Nelson, see his burial place in St Paul's Cathedral,
or visit his flagship, HMS Victory, at Portsmouth Harbour.