No matter how many times one has visited London, the city always has one more secret to share. In order to discover this secret place, which is not really secret but lesser known, one needs to leave the more touristy areas and wander the labyrinthine streets of the Square Mile.
The Square Mile, as the City of London is also called, is a ceremonial county. It sits on the area where the Romans founded Londinium. The governing body of the City is the Corporation of London led by the Lord Mayor, not to be confused by the Mayor of London. Is it baffling enough or should I go on?
The Corporation of London has its headquarters at the Guildhall. The oldest bit is a fabulous medieval building built between 1411 and 1440. It has been repaired throughout the centuries, especially after the Blitz caused lots of damage during World War II.
I was looking forward to visiting the Great Hall, a wonderful medieval hall. When I arrived at the Guildhall, I noticed a group of gowned people milling around inside the glass-walled corridors and a security agent or two outside. I asked what was going on and he said there was a graduation ceremony in the Great Hall. “The Lord Mayor will be here too. In fact,” he said, pointing a finger to the opposite end of the plaza, “that’s him.” Four official cars with passengers wearing funny headdresses drove in front of me.
I wasn’t allowed in the Great Hall but I got to see an unusual display.
Guildhall Art Gallery
The Guildhall Art Gallery, located to the right of the Great Hall, displays paintings from the 1670s to this day. Entrance is free of charge and photography without flash is allowed. Although the paintings aren’t very famous, it makes for a quiet and interesting visit. My favourite room was the medieval crypt with the typical vaulted ceilings of that time.
The Romans founded Londinium in the year 47 AC. Archeologists supposed that Londinium must have had a circus, like most Roman cities. However, they never found any traces of one until the 1980s. Museum of London archeologists found the remains of the circus by chance during refurbishment work at the Art Gallery. The remains include some parts of the arena, of the eastern wall and segments of timber drains.
Gladiatorial combats, animal fights, public entertainment and the execution of criminals took place in this amphitheater.
The entrance to the Amphitheatre is through the crypt.
St. Lawrence Jewry
St. Lawrence Jewry is the official church of the Corporation of London. Although it was dedicated to St. Lawrence, its full name comes from the medieval Jewry close by.
The original church of St. Lawrence Jewry disappeared in the Great Fire of 1666. Sir Christopher Wren built the current building during the reconstruction of London. The second rebirth, based on Wren’s blueprints, of the church took place after bombs did heavy damage during World War II.