London, with its fascinating mix of old and new, is my favorite city in the world. Inevitably, I start almost every trip to the city with a visit to Trafalgar Square. This central London square, in the area formerly known as Charring Cross, is home to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery (two of my favorite museums), St. Martin-in-the-Fields (with a wonderful cafe in the crypt), Nelson's Column and the curiosity known as the Fourth Plinth. Trafalgar is one of my favorite places to sit, people watching and soaking in the sights. You can even see all the way to Big Ben from the square!
So what is the Fourth Plinth? Each corner of Trafalgar Square has a plinth, with three of them topped by a commemorative sculpture. The fourth of these plinths, in the northwest corner of the square, was meant to showcase an equestrian statue of William IV, but the funds never materialized and the plinth stood empty for 150 years. Finally, in 1999, plans were announced to showcase a series of temporary art exhibits on the plinth. The project was a success and there is now a commission to keep the plinth an active space for changing art displays. The plinth has even showcased a Madame Tussauds wax figure of David Beckham during the 2002 World Cup. I would have loved to have seen that!!
While in England for my Study Abroad program in 2010, I was fortunate to see Yinka Shonibare's Ship in a Bottle installation. The ship, a giant replica of Horatio Nelson's flagship, is right at home in the Square, as it is the ship that Nelson rode to victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The faithfully replicated ship has 37 sails, 80 cannon and the bottle is large enough that the artist and his assistants could climb in to do their work. The display was revealed on May 24th and was quite a success. Even Nelson himself, peering down on the display from his Column, seemed to approve!
I really loved the ship in the bottle! I am a fan of anything nautical, and this display was truly inspiring due to it's enormous size. The attention to detail is amazing, and the colorful sails were beautiful against the backdrop of the National Gallery. Over the years, I have often thought how sad it is that this was just a temporary display, so I was delighted to learn that the ship was moved to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich for permanent display. Shonibare's ship is so beautiful that I am happy to know it is on display and I will have another chance to visit it someday! After a visit to Trafalgar Square to see the newest installation on the Fourth Plinth, of course!!