Wednesday, April 29, 2009

1. The River

From Travel Writing for Journalists
Okay, so maybe this #1 is a bit of a cop-out, but honestly in many ways the river IS London. The ancient Roman city Londinium was chosen by the legions in part because they could ford the Thames River at that spot.

It grew from there, was destroyed and rebuilt as Lundenwic in the Middle Ages, and became a trading hub in Northern Europe. The river created London, and in part helped it become a world superpower for 300 years. The British Empire was built on shipping and trade -- London was at its center. The way that shipping got to London? You got it -- The River.

Even today London is built oriented towards the Thames. Parliament, the Tate Modern, Big Ben, the Tower of London and St. Paul's all look over the Thames. Tower Bridge silently stands sentinel, as the entrance into modern London. The Thames used to be incredibly polluted, but has been cleaned up in recent times.

It's a tidal river, which means it ebbs and flows with the tide, it's color, and it's look changes by the hour. It's a living, breathing thing, winding through the city it helped to create.

Times have changed the way it used to look. In ancient times, the river was much wider, and dozens of tributaries flowed into it from both north and south. Those rivers are well known on their own -- and their names still lend their name to different areas in the city: The Fleet, The Walbrook, The Tyburn, and the River Westbourne among others. All these rivers now flow through pipes as part of London's extensive sewer system. There are still spots where some of these rivers pop up above ground, but for the most part they've become caged animals.

Joseph Bazalgette and his modern sewer system helped narrow the Thames, and make it a faster flowing river than it once was. Through all of the changes in the river, through all of the fires and plagues, in good times and bad times, the river has stood as the thread that runs through the ancient city. It has seen it all.

While in London, appreciate the river and it's history. Try to take a stroll along the South Bank at night if you can... the city opens up in front of you, and its negative image is illuminated along the length of the Thames. It's a sight you'll never forget.

That's why the Thames gets top billing on my list -- because none of the other nine sites would even exist if not for the river.

No comments: