Designed by Christopher Wren and completed in 1711, St Paul’s Cathedral remains a dominating presence in the City, despite the encroaching tower blocks. Topped by an enormous lead-covered dome, its showpiece west facade is particularly magnificent.
The best place from which to appreciate St Paul’s is beneath the dome, decorated (against Wren’s wishes) with Thornhill’s trompe l’oeil frescoes. The most richly decorated section of the cathedral, however, is the chancel, where the gilded mosaics of birds, fish, animals and greenery, dating from the 1890s, are spectacular. The intricately carved oak and limewood choir stalls, and the imposing organ case, are the work of Wren’s master carver, Grinling Gibbons.
A series of stairs, beginning in the south aisle, lead to the dome’s three galleries, the first of which is the internal Whispering Gallery, so called because of its acoustic properties – words whispered to the wall on one side are distinctly audible over 100ft away on the other, though the place is often so busy you can’t hear much above the hubbub. The other two galleries are exterior: the wide Stone Gallery, around the balustrade at the base of the dome, and ultimately the tiny Golden Gallery, below the golden ball and cross which top the cathedral.
Although the nave is crammed full of overblown monuments to military types, burials in St Paul’s are confined to the whitewashed crypt, reputedly the largest in Europe. Immediately to your right is Artists’ Corner, which boasts as many painters and architects as Westminster Abbey has poets, including Christopher Wren himself, who was commissioned to build the cathedral after its Gothic predecessor, Old St Paul’s, was destroyed in the Great Fire. The crypt’s two other star tombs are those of Nelson and Wellington, both occupying centre stage and both with more fanciful monuments upstairs.