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History of the city

History of the city (1)

The first information we have of London as an important settlement dates back to 43 AD, after which the Romans invaded the British Isles. The ideal situation of the spot next to the Thames estuary meant that, in just a few years, Londinium became the most prosperous city in Britannia. The main vestiges of this period are in the City and Southwark areas.

In the 5th century, the inhabitants of this Roman province rose up against the metropolis and the invaders finally abandoned the island, but some new invaders, the Saxons, settled in the city. After a period of dark centuries, during which the Danes made several incursions, the figure of Edward the Confessor appeared, who founded Westminster Abbey and, on establishing his palace in the surrounding area, began a conflict against the City, which had been the traditional centre of power.

The Normans arrived in the 11th century with William the Conqueror, and the division between the economic power of the City and political power of Westminster was widened, since successive sovereigns definitively established their residence there. Over time, in the 12th century the City would force concessions from the sovereignty, giving it a special status with the creation of an autonomous governing body that is today reflected in the institutions headed by the Lord Mayor.

In 1348 a dreadful period began for Europe, with the epidemic of a terrible plague, the Black Plague. London was not spared, and a large part of its population perished.

The period of glory for this city began in the 15th century, when it became clear that it was the capital of England and, thanks to its port, trade experienced a boom. In the following years, with the consolidation of the Tudor dynasty, the city lived prosperous times and experienced big changes. The religious reform carried out by Henry VIII did not produce much opposition, and the majority of the population accepted the transition to Protestantism. However, the disentailment of Church properties did have a big impact, there being many in London.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, as well as economic prosperity, a prestigious cultural scene developed, headed by Shakespeare, which confirmed that the city was experiencing an authentic age of splendour.

So much pleasure and prosperity could not last forever, though, and in just a few years two big disasters occurred: in 1665 another big epidemic took the lives of one fifth of the population. And before the inhabitants of London had time to recover, the Great Fire of 1666 occurred, which destroyed a large part of the city.

Nevertheless, the Londoners made a supreme effort and, led by figures such as the distinguished architect Christopher Wren, rebuilt everything that the flames had devoured. Urban growth continued at a pace during the 18th and early 19th centuries, with the development of the majestic avenues and monuments of the West End. A great change was also noted on the south bank of the Thames with the construction of more bridges.

The 19th century is, perhaps, the period during which the biggest changes to the physiognomy of the city took place. The consolidation of its economic supremacy worldwide, added to the large and speedy development of the Industrial Revolution, meant that immigration increased exponentially. In just one century, the capital of England grew from less than one million inhabitants to nearly seven million.

This was also a particularly prosperous period for culture. In 1851 the Universal Exhibition was held, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert promoted many institutions, such as museums and auditoriums.

The metropolitan area of Greater London continued growing despite the havoc wreaked on the younger generations by the First World War. It was, however, the Second World War which caused the most damage to the city. The bloody bombings by the Germans of the Blitz reduced a large part of London to rubble.

As from the 1950s and 60s, a revolution began to take place, both economic and cultural. With the arrival of many immigrants, London acquired its character, today intrinsic, of a melting pot of cultures, and fashion and music movements grew up that, between the 60s and early 80s, would consolidate the city as the world centre of design and modernity.

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