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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Classical Architecture in Greenwich

Greenwich is located in the East end of London and it is one of my favourite parts of the city. I have visited the area several times in the past and each time I am there, I am reminded why I love it so much. Greenwich doesn’t feel like you are in the city. There are many fine examples of classical architecture, a park with big open green space to wander freely, it is right on the Thames and generally (when I have visited Greenwich) there were less people and crowds than in other parts of the city. For me, I consider this place to be a hidden gem.

As previously mentioned, it is on the Thames and I have gone on some lovely walks along the banks in Greenwich. During this most recent visit, while strolling along the Thames, I stumbled upon the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. The access point to the tunnel is along the Thames near the Cutty Sark (which is a giant tall ship on a section of land, next to the Old Royal Naval College). This foot tunnel allows pedestrians to cross the River Thames in what is essentially a giant concrete tube that runs underneath the river. It is 1,215 feet in length. At the other end of the tunnel, the other access point is directly across the Thames in a park that looks out onto the water towards the Old Royal Navel College and the Cutty Sark.

Continuing my walk I went through Greenwich Park. I had never taken the time to explore the park before. The park has a garden, wide open green space and some lovely walking paths lined with large trees. Climbing the hill reveals a great view point of the city. At the top of the hill is also where the Royal Observatory is located. The day I was there, many school children were at the observatory, so I decided not to go in. The park is a great spot for a picnic, or to sit on a bench to relax, enjoy the atmosphere, or even do some people watching.  At the bottom of the hill is where you will find the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House.

The National Maritime Museum is free to enter and their collection is focused around the importance of the sea and ships. Many objects on display highlight navigation, voyages, sea exploration, the navy, and the history of Britain at sea including innovations throughout time as it relates to the sea and ships. The museum is a beautiful building from 1807. Initially it was a school for the children of seafarers, it was opened as the National Maritime Museum in 1937, and in 1997 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building itself is just as interesting as the museum collection it houses.

Across the street is the Old Royal Naval College, and beside the Maritime Museum is the Queen’s House (and No, I am not talking about Buckingham Palace). These buildings are just two of some of the most amazing examples of classical architecture in Greenwich. Walking the streets of Greenwich makes you feel like you are walking around in history, it makes you feel like you have stepped back in time.

Today the Old Royal Naval College is a cultural destination. It is considered the architectural centerpiece of Maritime Greenwich. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been awarded this status as an Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The buildings have had several uses throughout its history, but is most commonly known as a training establishment for the Royal Naval College. Many parts of the inside of these structures are just as impressive as the architectural design on the outside; particularly the Painted Hall, Nelson Room and the Chapel. The buildings were designed in the Baroque architectural style by Sir Christopher Wren and were constructed in 1696 and 1712. If it looks familiar, perhaps that’s because it is a popular film location for many movies and television shows. 600 years of history has been preserved at this site and it is well worth a wander through the building if you have the time.

The Queen’s House although it looks much simpler and smaller in comparison to the other architectural marvels nearby, it is by far my favourite place in Greenwich. At first glance it doesn’t look like much. Looking at the front of the structure from the outside, you see a square box-like building in the center. Two staircases wrap around either side of a small door in the front lower portion of the main building, which is where you enter. Extending out from either side of the central building is a long colonnade.

Further exploration of the space reveals much more. It was a royal villa designed by Indigo Jones and was completed in 1638. It was the first building in England to be created in the Palladian architectural style. It features a symmetrically balanced layout both inside and out. The symmetrical geometry extends into the interior of the great hall. Also found inside is the Tulip Stairs, which was the first geometric self-supporting spiral staircase in Britain.

Personally, I think I am drawn to this place because of the attention to detail in the geometry and use of pattern and repetition within the space, which is a major part of my art practice. It’s a charming little establishment that I never get tired of visiting. Looking out the windows or out from the colonnade are great views of the surrounding area including Greenwich Park, the other nearby architectural gems and views of the city of London. With free entry this place is a must see. I should mention that the Queen’s House has a number of events and exhibitions to see and it is much more than just an empty villa to explore.

For photography Greenwich is a dream. It’s no wonder why it’s in high demand as a filming location. Greenwich is a great place to take some great images with a wide range of subjects. Depending on your interest or genre of photography, I am sure you will find something of interest to focus your lens on. One obvious choice is architecture, but other options include nature and landscapes in the park and surrounding area, panoramic cityscapes from several locations in the park and other nearby spots, street photography or urban photography within the streets of Greenwich, and even posed or candid portraits if people watching is your thing. There are so many options to take photographs in a location like this and I recommend you take full advantage of it if you have the opportunity, as you may regret it afterwards and may not have another chance to go back at a later time.

You can take some timeless images in Greenwich, but if this is your intent, remember to avoid getting people in your shots as the clothing and fashion trends people wear today, will give away the time period in which your image was taken. If you are going to take timeless images with people in them, pay close attention to what your subjects are wearing and suggest clothing options (and perhaps also hairstyles) that are more suited to the look you are trying to achieve. For me, I was able to take some of these timeless images, but many of the images I took were photos that don’t have people in them or they were taken with the people at a distance, so that you can’t really make out what they are wearing. Also, my photographs from Greenwich have a personal connection to me. They are linked to positive memories and experiences that I had when I took them, which means they are extra special to me.

This was a unique opportunity for me to take photos in Greenwich. I consider the images I took there to have great value to me because I am not able to access settings or sites like this in Ontario, Canada (where I live). Perhaps that is why I appreciate places like Greenwich, because I consider these places to be rare – I am not able to visit them often and for me, it’s not the norm of what I see in the everyday.

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