Maritime and Mean Time in Greenwich



On my second day in London, I met up with good friend to check out Greenwich.  The village of Greenwich is on the south bank of the Thames, just a short train journey from the city center, but it feels like a world apart.  It is known for it’s rich maritime history, as well as being the home of the Prime Meridian, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Along the main street of Greenwich and facing the river sits a strip of impressive, gleaming white 17th century buildings.  These were once a Royal Palace, a Royal Hospital, and still hold the Royal Naval College. One of these buildings is now the National Maritime museum, an impressive (and free) collection of all things related to the Britain at sea.

The view of the London skyline from the Royal Observatory.

Behind the museum is a huge expanse of green space, a park which is part of the UNESCO site for its landscaping. It would have been a place to spend an afternoon if the temperature had not been below zero. Beyond that is a steep hill, at the top of which sits the Royal Observatory, home to the Prime Meridian and the center of world time.  Within the museum you can straddle two hemispheres, and also see exhibits on historical timekeeping and the problem of determining longitude in the Flamsted House, an observatory since 1675. It is also home to the country’s largest refracting telescope, built in 1893.  There is also a planetarium with interesting exhibits on astronomy.

The Prime Meridian.

The town of Greenwich has some cute cafes and shops.  There is a market that apparently comes alive on the weekend, but even on a Thursday had an interesting collection of antique stalls.  At the water’s edge is another museum, the Cutty Sark, a beautifully restored tea clipper ship built in 1869.

The Cutty Sark.

I didn’t get inside the Cutty Sark, because by the time we got there it was turning to dusk and we had to get back to Soho for dinner.  But in keeping with the maritime theme, we took a boat back to the city.  The boats are part of the public transit system and make stops all along the Thames. I had never thought of traveling around London that way, but it was actually quite convenient and fun.  It’s a great way to see the sites and city skyline, especially beautiful with the sun setting behind them.

Tower Bridge from the boat.

London has always been a cosmopolitan city, which is part of its appeal to me. Greenwich was a reminder of the extent to which London really was the center of the world (or should I say centre?) The impressive architecture of Greenwich demonstrated the power and wealth of the empire, the observatory told of its scientific achievements, and the Prime Meridian should just how lasting of an impact they have today. Greenwich was a great place to visit for two history and map nerds.



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