The Big Ben Tower, often simply referred to as Big Ben, is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world and a symbol of the United Kingdom. This magnificent structure, located in the heart of London, has a rich history and many captivating features that have fascinated tourists and locals alike for generations. In this article, we will delve into the intriguing aspects of the Big Ben Tower, from its history and architecture to the unique experience it offers.
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1. A Historical Timepiece
Big Ben is more than just a clock tower; it is a historical timepiece that has marked significant events in the United Kingdom’s history. The clock, officially known as the Great Clock of Westminster, was completed in 1854 and is a masterpiece of horology. Its chimes are known for their remarkable accuracy and have rung out through countless historic moments.
2. Not Actually Named “Big Ben”
One of the most common misconceptions about this iconic tower is its name. The nickname “Big Ben” actually refers to the Great Bell within the tower, not the tower itself. The bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the Chief Commissioner of Works when the bell was first installed in 1858. It is officially known as the Great Bell, but the name “Big Ben” has been used so widely that it has become the tower’s colloquial name.
3. A Marvel of Victorian Engineering
Big Ben stands as a testament to Victorian engineering and architectural prowess. The tower design by Charles Barry, a renowned architect, and its clock mechanism was created by Edmund Beckett Denison. The clock’s construction was a masterpiece of precision engineering and creativity, using more than 5.7 million individual parts.
4. The Tower’s Impressive Dimensions
The Big Ben Tower is no small structure. It reaches a height of 316 feet (96 meters) and boasts a base measuring 40 feet (12 meters) square. The clock faces are also quite large, each measuring 23 feet (7 meters) in diameter.
5. The Famous Clock Faces
Big Ben’s clock faces are world-famous for their design and accuracy. Each face is adorned with intricate black and gold numerals, and each minute hand is over 14 feet (4.2 meters) long. The dials are illuminated at night, allowing them to be seen from miles away. Interestingly, the glass on the clock faces is slightly convex, which enhances the visibility and readability of the time from a distance.
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6. Remarkable Chimes
The chimes of Big Ben are as iconic as the tower itself. Every quarter-hour, the four faces of the clock chime with a series of four notes, and on the hour, the Great Bell tolls to indicate the time. The tune of the chimes is know as the Westminster Quarters and is instantly recognizable. These chimes have become an integral part of London’s soundscape.
7. The Great Bell
The Great Bell, also known as Big Ben, weighs a staggering 13.8 tons (13,760 kg). Cast in 1856 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, it took 20 men 18 hours to lift the bell into the tower. Remarkably, the clock tower start its operation before the Great Bell was even installed.
8. Unintentional Lean
Over the years, the Big Ben Tower has developed a slight lean. The lean, which is minuscule and not visible to the naked eye, has been attributed to the uneven settlement of the ground beneath the tower. Despite this lean, the tower remains safe and stable.
9. Continuous Operation
Big Ben has continued to operate and chime through numerous historical events, including both World Wars and significant national celebrations. Even during maintenance and renovations, the clock faces have been adjusted to continue functioning accurately.
10. Popular Tourist Attraction
Big Ben and the surrounding Palace of Westminster are a significant tourist attraction. Visitors from around the world flock to the area to admire the impressive architecture and hear the famous chimes. While the tower itself is not open to the public, guided tours of the Palace of Westminster provide a glimpse of the interior, including the Central Lobby, the St Stephen’s Hall, and Westminster Hall.
11. Postcard-Perfect Views
For those who want to capture the iconic tower in all its glory, several vantage points offer postcard-perfect views. Westminster Bridge and the South Bank of the River Thames provide stunning angles for photographs. Additionally, you can take a ride on the London Eye, the famous observation wheel, to see the tower from a unique perspective.
12. A Resilient Landmark
During the Blitz in World War II, the Big Ben Tower and the Palace of Westminster endured severe bomb damage. Remarkably, the clock continued to chime throughout the war, offering a sense of comfort and familiarity to Londoners during a time of great upheaval.
13. A UNESCO World Heritage Site
In 1987, the Palace of Westminster, including the Big Ben Tower, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This recognition highlights the historical and architectural significance of this iconic structure.
14. Symbol of Democracy
The Big Ben Tower has long been associated with the British government and democracy. Its prominent location next to the Houses of Parliament underscores its role as a symbol of British governance. Over the years, it has been featured in countless films, news broadcasts, and documentaries, further solidifying its status as a global symbol of democracy.
The Big Ben Tower is a magnificent structure with a rich history and numerous intriguing features. Its legendary clock, remarkable chimes, and iconic design have made it a symbol of both London and the United Kingdom. For tourists and locals alike, the tower’s enduring presence serves as a reminder of the past, a symbol of democracy, and a source of fascination and wonder. It is a testament to the timeless appeal of historical landmarks that continue to captivate our imagination.
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