on March 31, 2012
Eiffel Tower is the icon for Paris, the Statue of Liberty for New York, the Colosseum – for Rome. London doesn't have one dominant landmark like that, but many of those looking for one would probably pick the Tower Bridge, whose characteristic silhouette is recognised the world over. It's not actually, objectively, a beautiful a structure: an eminently Victorian structure, unselfconsciously over-the-top, with mock-Gothic, virtually Baronial castle-like towers and elaborate ornamentation. And yet, it's strangely attractive. I am not sure if it is because it's such a well known building, or because it fits the location so well, but it somehow transcends the Victorian pretentiousness. I am not surprised, however, that early critics called it ''an absurd structure'' and commented on its ''tawdriness''. The bridge was built in 1894, in response to the need for an additional crossing in the East End which would still allow tall-masted ships to enter port facilities higher upstream. It is a combined suspension and bascule (draw) bridge, 244m long and with a central span of 61m. Originally, the bascule mechanism was operated by steam engines, this has now been replaced by an electric power.The towers are 65m high, and the pedestrian walkway is at the level of 44m. These were never popular, as required climbing high stairs and attracted dodgy characters. Closed in 1910, the walkway reopened in 1982as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition, offering displays on the bridge's history and stunning views of the Thames and London spreading on both sides. Not cheap at 8GBP per adult, it's still worth the expense for the way it puts you in touch with the huge, living, breathing, monstrous and wonderful city below. But even if you don't want to or can't afford the Exhibition, it's worth coming to see the Bridge, and you get good views up the river from the road level too. The walk along the Thames is very worth doing (in sections, if you want to visit the sights on the way) and the Tower Bridge provides a convenient crossing point, either back to the north from the South Bank, towards the Tower; or from the Tower to the south bank with the City Hall and HMS Belfast. It's also a fairly natural turn-back of a typical touristy-sightseeing loop, with less attractions easily accessible by walking beyond it.
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