In the streets around Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, a handful of structures speak to the evolution of this iconic city.

Why are 10 million visitors from around the world drawn each year to the City of London? The compact area around the new Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square offers unmatched access to the past, present and future of England.

The City of London is London in miniature, but also on its grandest scale. Within the streets and alleyways of the Square Mile, as it’s often called, lie many of London’s most intriguing and historic buildings.

The City today encompasses much the same area and shape as the city the Romans founded after their conquest of Britain in AD 43. The River Thames – wider and shallower then – was narrow enough here to bridge, but deep enough to allow ships to come and go from the coast, making it the perfect spot for a trading post. Londinium, as the Roman city was named, rose along the river’s northern banks; it was a commercial and connected city from day one.

Stay in the heart of London

Over two millennia, innumerable important buildings were erected: public spaces, places of worship, grand private houses, banks, offices. Here are 10 of the best, whose stones – and glass and steel – tell the evolving, three-dimensional story of London.

Roman Amphitheatre | AD 70

WHERE IT BEGAN

Guildhall Yard was built on the site of the Roman city’s amphitheatre. Today, a subterranean display gives an evocative impression of the amphitheatre’s scale, and its outlines are traced above ground in the paving of Guildhall Yard.
Photography courtesy Martin Morrell

The City of London stands directly above the site of Londinium, and many Roman structures have been unearthed – some more recently than others. The site of the city’s amphitheatre was unknown until 1988, when excavations for the new Guildhall Art Gallery uncovered two sections of curved stone wall, 6 metres below Guildhall Yard. Investigation revealed that the amphitheatre was originally built in AD 70, and that it was extended in the second century to seat around 6,000 spectators, who would have watched gladiatorial contests and other public events there.

Tower of London | 1100

POWER AND MIGHT

Begun in 1066 and completed in 1100, the Tower of London served as an assertion of Norman might and protection over the city. Photography courtesy Martin Morrell
Begun in 1066 and completed in 1100, the Tower of London served as an assertion of Norman might and protection over the city. Photography courtesy Martin Morrell

After the Romans retreated in the early 400s, the City seems to have been largely abandoned. Though King Alfred initiated repair of the Roman walls in 886, it wasn’t until Britain was conquered by the Normans in 1066 that the City regained its importance, signified by the construction of the central castle keep of the tower of London.

A royal residence and military stronghold, the keep is still the heart of the Tower of London. And though much of it was restored in the 1800s, the chapel of St John on the first floor remains the finest example in the country of Anglo-Norman architecture at its purest and most powerful.

St Bartholomew the Great | 1123

DIVINE INSPIRATION

St Bartholomew the Great is all that is left of the much larger 12th-century church.
Photography courtesy Martin Morrell

The City today may be synonymous with banks, but in the Middle Ages it was dominated by religious institutions, such as the Augustinian priory and hospital of St Bartholomew. The hospital, known simply as Barts, was founded in 1123 by one of King Henry I’s courtiers and still exists on its original site.

Across the road, St Bartholomew the Great is all that remains of a once much larger church. Its interior – which you may recognize from the film Four Weddings and a Funeral – is wonderfully atmospheric, with its original Norman arches and internal oriel window. The five pre-Reformation bells in the tower are still rung for some Sunday services – London’s oldest man-made sounds.

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By Christopher Stocks fourseasons.comFour Seasons Magazine

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