To understand London, you have to understand the City of London, the Square Mile near the Tower of London that is better known as the financial district.
Entering the City across London Bridge is to walk in the footsteps of Londoners through the centuries. As London’s first bridge, this was the only entry point across the river from Roman times until Blackfriars was built in 1769. The utilitarian present design, replacing the one transplanted to the desert of Arizona, is a shadow of past constructions. Inside St Magnus the Martyr Church, which stands on the approach to the medieval bridge, an intricate scale model shows how the bridge was once lined with lively seven-storey houses and shops.
Those caught outside its gates at night could console themselves on the South Bank with entertainment that was banned inside the City walls: cockpits, bear baiting, brothels and theaters. That area is still an arts center, with the rebuilt Shakespeare’s Globe as its showpiece. So congested was London Bridge that a fire in 1212, having started at both ends, killed 3,000 people trapped in the middle.
It could take an hour to cross and the Lord Mayor dictated in 1722 that all traffic had to keep left, as it still does on Britain’s roads, in much of its former empire – and on London’s escalators.
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