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LONDON – One of a Kind -

London is the capital of Britain, the chief city of the British Commonwealth, and one of the largest cities in the world.

The area, known as the Greater London, includes almost the whole of London, but not the City, and it was officially established in 1965. It is a great urban complex with some 8,5 million inhabitants p: it is not a town but rather a country. London stands on both banks of the River Thames. The inhabitants, known as “Londoners” today belong to different nationalities, religions and cultures, making London one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, with over 300 spoke languages. The City, the London of Roman times, is the oldest part of the town. It is the centre around which the great capital has been developed. Here you can see the Bank of England, the most important bank in the world; the Mansion House, where the Lord Mayor of London lives; St. Paul’s Cathedral, the most famous church in London; the Tower of London, in its days a fortress, a royal residence and a prison.

But London is much more than this. It is the heart of Britain and one of the greatest, brightest and busiest centers in the world. Full of fabulous shops, theatres, museums and art galleries, restaurants and pubs, it is a holiday city all the year. The Celts called the city Llyn-Din. The Romans, in the first century A.D. changed it to Londinium and built the first bridge across the River Thames at the spot where London Bridge now stands.

Londinium became soon one of the most prosperous cities in the Roman Empire, with a population of around 50,000 citizen living in the one square mile area we still call “The City” of London, or simply known as The City. During the Middle Age, London grew even greater.

The Tower of London was built in the 11th century as a mighty fortress and by the 12th century, the office of Lord Mayor wasestablished. Meanwhile the king and parliament were based in the City of Westminster, further up the river, and therefore the City was left to develop separately, enjoying a form of autonomy that it still retains today.

Although the City was virtually destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, it arose like the Phoenix from the ashes to become Europe’s major stock exchange, a foreign exchange market twice the size of New York’s, the commodily market for the world’s metals and raw materials, as well as the major insurance and banking center of the world.

A CITY OF DIVERSITY

What other city can afford such diversity?

Diversity of architecture and the arts, diversity of sport and entertainments, diversity of history and culture, style and fashion and diversity of its citizens. Like New York, London has always been a haven for refugees and a melting pot of several races and cultures of the world.

Like Paris, London has always been the center of the country of which it is the capital and has drawn, like a magnet, the talented and ambitious ones from the far corners of the land.

Like Rome, it has been the seat of a vast empire and houses much of the treasure of world civilization. It is a royal city of palaces, pageantry and great public parks, but for all that, it is essentially a city of family houses with private gardens, hidden to the visitors’ eyes, a collection of small towns and neighborhoods, each with a different aspect and character.

Sedate Belgravia, arty Chelsea, elegant Mayfair, imperial Westminster, intellectual Hampstead, conservative blue-blood Kensington, radical red-flag Islington, Jewish Golders Green, Black Brixton, Asian Southall, Cockney Hackney, Chinese and Italian Soho, Irish Kilburn, Islamic Bayswater, Greek Camden Town: all clustered around the City of London and the West End which together make up The Greater London, Europe’s largest city, that sits astride the River Thames.

The English loves dressing up, and nowhere can this be better than in London. The diversity of dress, formal and informal, traditional, exotic and eccentric, is constantly on view in the streets and institutions of the metropolis: the colorful uniforms of the Beefeaters at the tower, the Chelsea pensioners, the Horse Guards at Whitehall and the red coated, bearskin-hatted guard at St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace; the robes and wigs of the judges and barristers, the bowler hats and furled umbrellas of the City gents, the glittering Cockney pearly kings and queens of the East End, the ceremonial chains and tricorn hats of the borough mayors, the top hats and morning coats of the guests coming and going from investitures and garden parties at Buckingham Palace, the peers in ermine trimmed robes and the peeresses in glittering tiaras arriving from the Opening of Parliament, to join the Queen who outglitters everyone when she puts on her crown that contains over 3,000 diamonds.

But even low-life fashion in London is perpetually colourful, and the youth of London have, for many years, created eccentric styles that are often copied by youth all over the world. In the 1950’s there was a generation of Teddy Boys who drain-piped their trousers and wore Edwardian-style frock coats as they rocked around the clock. In the 1960’s Mary Quant gave to the world the mini-skirt, and the Beatles set the mod fashions with roll-necked shirts and jackets without lapels and Carnaby Street became the popular fashion centre of the world. The 1970’s gave rise to the punks and you can find pockets of teenagers everywhere, from Boston to Kathmandu, sporting multi-coloured spiked hair. And bicycle chains on studded leather jackets in imitation of the King’s Road originals. In the 1980’s the style was inspired by musicians of the era like Madonna whose tulle skirts over leggings, the layered skirts, bracelets of all kinds, torn stockings, bustier tops, underwear as outerwear, jewelry recall religious iconography, beaded necklaces, hair bows and fishnet gloves were emulated around the world.

Even the exclusive high-fashion London designers tend to be more “far out”, individual or eccentric in their styles than their more conservative French and Italian counterparts. But not all. Lindka Cierach one of the top London fashion designers, has built her reputation on more traditional haute couture, specializing I elegant frocks for ladies attending the races at Ascot, and wedding gowns for Sloane Rangers. This led her to the commission of a lifetime designing the wedding dress that went down the aisle of Westminster Abbey in front of a television audience of 400 million people when Sarah Ferguson became the Duchess of York.

MUSIC TIME

According to statistics, the British spend more of their income on entertainment the anyone in Europe, and London certainly provides plenty of amusements to spend money on.

If New York is the center of modern dance and the visual arts, London can claim to be the music center of the world because no musician of any nationality can achieve or retain international stature without regular visits to London’s five principal concert halls. In addition London has two major opera houses and is also the site of the most extensive music festival in the world. It offers major concerts every evening during the summer with top instrumentalists, conductors, and orchestras from all over the world. In addition London is filled with amateur and semiprofessional orchestras.

London is also the center of the pop music scene and the home of many of the top international stars who often give massive concerts at places like Wembley Stadium, the site of Bob Geldof’s Life Aid concert, on July the 13th 1985, that was seen all over the world.

SHOPPING

London has a huge variety of shops, but its largest shop is world famous for having its own diversity: Harrods in Knightsbridge, where you can buy everything from a pedigreed dog to satellite receiving equipment in its 300 different department, in a surface of over 93,000 sqm. Its slogan - everything for everybody everywhere - indicates the extreme variety of items it offers for sale. It has become a real tourist destination, beyond shopping.

Harrods was founded in 1849 and built its international reputation as the exporters of almost anything to almost anywhere. Among the more bizarre exports, Harrods have sent a Persian carpet to Persia, a refrigerator to Finland, a pound of sausages to a yacht anchored in the Mediterranean. There is an old story that if you ring up Harrods and ask if you can buy an elephant, the reply will be “Would you prefer Indian or African, Sir?”

CULTURE

As one might expect from the city that gave Shakespeare his big break into show-business, London has a theatrical tradition that is unrivaled. Just as Italy produces so many great singer, and Russia produces so many great dancers, England has always produced great actors and entertainers in such abundance to fill its own theatres, and still have enough left over to export to Broadway and Hollywood. It is unlike a time when it is not possible to see a selection of internationally famous stars playing on the London stage. Then too, there is entertainment in many pubs all over London.

Geography


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