The City is where London began. Long established as the financial district, it stretches from Temple Bar in the west to the Tower of London in the east – administrative boundaries that are only slightly larger than those marked by the Roman walls and their medieval successors. However, in this Square Mile (as the City is sometimes referred to), you’ll find few leftovers of London’s early days, since four-fifths of the area burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666. Rebuilt in brick and stone, the City gradually lost its centrality as London swelled westwards, though it has maintained its position as Britain’s financial heartland. What you see now is mostly the product of three fairly recent building phases: the Victorian construction boom; the overzealous postwar reconstruction following the Blitz; and the building frenzy that began in the 1980s and has continued ever since.
When you consider what has happened here, it’s amazing that so much has survived to pay witness to the City’s 2000-year history. Wren’s spires still punctuate the skyline and his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, remains one of London’s geographical pivots. At the City’s eastern edge, the Tower of London still boasts some of the best-preserved medieval fortifications in Europe. Other relics, such as Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire and London’s oldest synagogue and church, are less conspicuous, and even locals have problems finding modern attractions like the Museum of London and the Barbican arts complex.