Even though archeological excavations found some bronze and Iron Age’s objects, there is no evidence of an important settlement in the London area before Roman times.
The Romans invaded the island of Britain in 43 AD and established a civilian town around 7 years later (Londimium) in the area of the present London. The town had grown along the decades due to its importance as a trading port in the River Thames, until it became the capital of the Roman Britannia. By those days it had to resist different foreign invasions that encouraged the authorities to construct a defensive wall around the city.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city experienced a decline loosing considerable population and large areas of the city were left in ruins. It was after this abandonment of the city by the Romans that Anglo Saxons (which had several settlements along the island) began to inhabit the area. In the 6th century London was incorporated into the East Saxons Kingdom, which became Christian one century later. It was in those times when the first St. Paul’s Cathedral was built. Under the Anglo Saxon mandate the city gained trading importance and its population increased considerably. All this prosperity as well as its estrategic value attracted the Vikings to the Thames and London had to suffer several invasions. During the 9th and 10th Centuries, Anglo Saxons and Danes had governed London alternately between invasions and wars until the Danish King Canute came to power in 1017. His policies of stimulating Danish civilian settlements and joining both ethnics became the basis of an Anglo Saxon – Nordic society.
After Canuts death, Edward the Confesor took the power. Under his reign the city experienced a great trade expansion as well as an architectural developement. When Edward died leaving no direct heir, his cousin William, Duke of Normandy, claimed the throne. He was recognised as king after defeating King Harold (Edward’s brother in law who was elected king by the royal council) in the battle of Hastings in 1066. It was under William the Conqueror period that many of the current iconic buildings in London were constructed such as the Tower of London.
During the following years, London increased its population as well as the number of religious buildings on its streets. Since trade became more prosperous, merchant guilds improved their organisation and started to control the commercial flows. The French influence on the English court (strengthen by French kings alternatively governing the island) was permanent along the rest of the Middle Age. Nevertheless the city experienced major dramas such as the Black Death in the mid 14th century which killed half of the city’s population, being the first of 16 outbreaks of plagues that occurred between the 14th and the 17th century.
During the Tudor’s period, London experienced great changes accompanying the country’s evolution towards a strong state with great influence over the rest of the world. When Henry’s VIII Dissolution of Monasteries ocurred, many properties that used to belong to the church passed to the state’s hands or to members of the Aristocracy. Benefited by the trade expansion beyond Europe and the mercantilism, London became one of the most important ports in northern Europe where important trading companies such as the West British East India Company and the Russia Company decided to establish their offices. This phenomenon caused a population growth, especially due to the immigrants that came to the city attracted by economic prosperity.
In the Elizabethan era, the art industry experienced a great development (especially theatre), transforming London into a cultural reference in all Europe. However, theatre was banned by the puritans in the next years of the century. By those days, many aristocrats and other wealthy people (who whished to live in a less crowded places) started to build residences in the rural belt of London, provoking the city’s enlargement to the suburban areas. This architectural developement was strongly damaged by the Great Fire in 1666, which lasted 4 days consuming almost the 60% of the city into ashes.
The Industrial Revolution and the establishment of the British Empire as a worldwide leader increased London’s importance as a trading city and strengthened its presence as a financial centre.
Victorian London was a city of strong contrasts. The benefits of technological advance converted the city into a modern metropolis, promoting the city’s growth and geographical expansion. The first railway opened in 1836 and the first underground line was constructed in 1863, a clear demonstration of the advanced and vanguardist technology. But perhaps the greater work of engineer was the construction of a massive system of sewers to take sewage outside the city, causing the dead toll to drop considerably. Anyway, this was the same city were thousands of people lived in extreme poverty, situation that led to several social movements.
All social campaigns started to see results at the end of the century when more rigorous laws (such as the one that made education compulsory for children from 5 to 12 years old) were approved. Therefore, the 20th century found a more developed city in both economic and social issues. Even though being twice bombarded during both World Wars (Zeppeling bombing during WWI and the Blitz in 1940), the city kept moving towards to the future and was once again reconstructed. Several social institutions and political parties fought against the unemployment, reinforcing the social activism that characterized the city during the century. From 1950 onwards, London became the home of a huge number of immigrants (mainly those coming from the ex- British Empire) who gave the city a varied cultural atmosphere. In the following years, there was a cultural and musical revolution that put London in the top of the Youth Culture.
Nowadays London is a modern and cosmopolitan capital city, with one of the higher living standards in the world and is a reference hub for tourism, art, business, sports, and fashion, among others.
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