Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square (4)

This iconic square in central London is one of the main tourist attractions of the city. Designed by the architect John Nash at the behest of King George IV and mainly built during the 1830s, it commemorates the victory of the British over the Franco-Spanish fleet in the famous naval Battle of Trafalgar on the 21 October 1805, wiping out completely Napoleon’s intention of a future invasion of the British Isles.

Thus, in the centre of the square rises the impressive Nelson’s Column, erected in 1843. Nearly 50 metres high and made in granite, it is crowned by the statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who commanded the British Navy in Trafalgar and who lost his life in the battle.

If you are looking for a good photo and manage to avoid the hundreds of pigeons that fill the square, four imposing bronze lions, the work of Sir Edwin Landseer, surround the base of the column. Their massive size will ensure you get a splendid photo. It is said that the metal used to sculpt them came from the cannons of the French fleet.

If we take into account that what today is Trafalgar Square, in the past occupied by the royal stables, its extraordinary monumental nature is even more stunning. So, in a quick panoramic tour we see South-Africa House to the east, Canada House to the west, the National Gallery in the north, which houses one of the largest collections of paintings in the world, and which it should be said… is free to get in! And the church of Saint Martin-In-The-Fields to the northeast in which classical music concerts and recitals are often held. In the extreme southwest of Trafalgar Square is the Admiralty Arch, a triumphal arch built in honour of Queen Victoria. 

One of the streets leading off the square is Charing Cross Road, literally the centre of London; it is the spot from where all the distances in England are calculated.

The extraordinary series of monuments is completed by two fountains designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1939 and diverse statues; for example, facing the National Gallery are James II and George Washington. This statue, a gift from the state of Virginia, is placed on soil imported from the United States so as to fulfil Washington’s declaration that he would never again set foot on British soil.

In each corner of the square there is a plinth. Three of them house statues: George IV in the northeast, Henry Havelock in the southeast, and Sir Charles James Napier in the southwest. 

And the fourth plinth? The one in the northwest corner was designed to place a statue of William IV, but not enough funds were raised and the plinth remained empty. Later on no agreement could be reached as to which figure to erect a statue of.

Until 1999, that is, when the Royal Society of Arts came up with the “Fourth Plinth” project, to exhibit temporarily works by contemporary artists. And this has been the case until today, although the best use of the fourth plinth is still a subject of debate.

Several companies have also used the plinth, normally without permission, as a platform for publicity; for example a wax statue of David Beckham was placed there from the famous Madame Tussaud wax museum. 

In the curiosities department, we should point out that since 1876 the north wall of the square has featured an example of the British system for measuring length that tells us about the inch, foot and yard.

Another aspect that makes Trafalgar Square a real classic to visit is that traditionally it ahs been the public meeting place, and much more so since the remodelling in 2003 turned the northern part of the square into a pedestrian-only  zone. In fact, it is the starting point of all kinds of demonstrations. 

It is always lively and bustling, and often with activities such as at Christmas, when you can attend Christmas carol concerts, and you will also be able to see the splendid fir tree that the city of Oslo has presented every year to Great Britain since 1947 for the help given to Norway during the Second World War.  

It is the site chosen for many celebrations, events, film shoots...

As an example, on the 6 of July 2005, Trafalgar Square was the meeting point for Londoners to hear the election of the city as organiser of the 2012 Olympic Games, in 2007 Trafalgar Square hosted the beginning of the Tour de France, and even holds the Guinness world record for people playing coconut shells; just imagine, 5,557 personas met here at 7 o’clock in the afternoon on the 23 of April 2007, and whoever visited the square in May 2007 found it completely covered in grass as part of a campaign to promote “green spaces” in the city.  So, who knows what you might come across there... 

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