Columbus Circle

Columbus Circle (97)

This is undoubtedly one of the most important points of the city. So much so that the distances to and from New York are officially measured from here. It is the zero kilometre point; the Columbus Circle, a large roundabout in contrast to the typical grid of the city, where Broadway, Central Park South, Central Park West and Eighth Avenue converge.

As you can see, in the centre there is a monument of just over 21 metres dedicated to Christopher Columbus. It is the work of Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo and was erected in 1892 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America; though curiously the statue that crowns the work was not put into place until two years later. The monument was financed by Italian-Americans in New York and especially by the New York newspaper "Il Progresso", which was published in Italian until its sudden closure in 1988.

Atop the monument is the figure of Christopher Columbus, made of marble, also Italian, and the granite column upon which it sits is decorated with bronze reliefs representing the three ships left the port of Palos in Spain to reach the Indies and show that the earth is round. They are the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Below, at the base, there is an angel holding a globe, representing the new world that Columbus discovered.

Originally, the Columbus Circle was devised in the late 19th century by William Phelps Eno, an expert on US road safety and traffic control, of whom it is said anecdotally that he never learned to drive.

But due to the rapid growth of New York, for many years the traffic around the monument was quite chaotic, so in this century, namely in 2005, the entire area underwent a major renovation, designed by the landscape architectural firm Laurie Olin, which established much better order for pedestrians and for vehicles. A landscaped garden, a space for walking and even very elegant fountains, renowned worldwide for being built by the creators of the very famous Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas, were added. With all this, today the roundabout is about 65 metres in diameter and, the street and sidewalk are added, the outer circle is about 130 metres in diameter.

But if anything the Columbus Circle is renowned for the great buildings and monuments that surround it. To start north, there is a very elegant skyscraper. It is the Trump International Hotel & Tower 44 floors and 176 metres high. Just below it is one of the most recognisable sculptures of the city, although the work is privately owned by Donald Trump, tourists’ photographs have made it an icon of New York. It is a structure of the globe made of stainless steel representing the internationality of the great mogul’s empire.

To continue, go west, where the New York Coliseum formerly stood; today you can see the brand new Time Warner Center, the headquarters of Time Warner communications media. The complex was opened in 2003 and has a very large range of restaurants, shops, a huge supermarket, apartments and offices and, headquarters of CNN and the prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center auditorium. The two towers of 55 floors and 229 metres high dominate the skyline, and many have come to baptise them as the new twin towers of New York. The complex was designed by architect David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and is undoubtedly one of the multimillion buildings in the city. Also note the parallelepiped shape of each of its sides, which are aligned with the slope of the streets of the city and with Broadway. With this small tribute to the grid of the city, you can easily imagine that 59th Street passes through the complex, although in reality it does not.

One of the projects that were to be developed here belonged to Donald Trump; they say that has not well pleased that these two towers exceeded the height of the building, to the north of Columbus Circle. They also tried to baptise one of the towers as "One Central Park", although in the end this didn’t happen. And, to top it off, the Mandarin Hotel is located on the top floors of the Time Warner Center; another five-star luxury hotel that directly rivals the tycoon’s finest hotel. For this reason, a banner hung in the Trump International Hotel & Tower hung saying “Your views are not as nice, right? However, there is a view to Central Park”.

Continuing across the roundabout, to the south is the Museum of Arts and Design, popularly known as the MAD where contemporary works crafted from metal, glass, fibre, wood, clay and other materials are on display. Although its foundation dates back to 1956, it was not until 2008 that it changed to the current location. It also had a change of name. It was originally the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and then the American Craft Museum until it adopted its current name in 2002. In addition to its excellent works, the museum is well known for the controversial design of its building, which was fully renovated in 2008. The old building was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone, known for the Radio City Hall and MOMA, among other great works. It was after much arguing that the authorities decided to remodel it as proposed by architect Brad Cloepfil. The most curious fact about the building is the friendly greeting that says “Hi” with large crystals, and the changing colour of its facades are made from pearled ceramic.

And to close the circle of this fantastically busy roundabout, to the east is one of the most famous entrances to Central Park: the Merchants' Gate, just where the elegant monument Maine Memorial is.

As you can see, Columbus Circle is full of life. Thus, it has often been the scene of famous films as such as Taxi Driver, Ghostbusters and The Devil Wears Prada. Now it's your turn; take out the camera and have fun immortalising your favourite corner. One last recommendation: one of the most popular photos is taken from the park entrance towards the Time Warner Center towers and Columbus Circle in the middle. Spectacular.

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