Wednesday, August 13, 2014

150 Year Old British Icon - Big Ben

The British icon Big Ben has stood in the Houses of Parliament for over a 150 years.

Few people know that the tower "Big Ben" is just a nickname for the tower and up until 2012, it had no official name. The origin of the nickname Big Ben is the subject of some debate. The nickname was applied first to the Great Bell; but later came to indicate the entire tower. Some people believe that the name "Big Ben" may have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell. Others believe Big Ben was named after boxing's English Heavyweight Champion Benjamin Caunt. Either way, in 2012, the tower was officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

The current tower, which stands at the north end of the Houses of Parliament, was completed in 1859, with the Great Bell's strikes heard for the time on July 11. But long before Big Ben's construction, several towers have stood in its place dating back to 1289. The Palace of Westminster was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1834 and plans for the construction of Big Ben began.

Over the years, Big Ben has been silenced for repairs and replacements. But the most interesting silencing of Big Ben was due to WWII. From 1939 until April 1945, the clock dials were unlit to comply with blackout regulations during the Second World War. The clock dials were re-illuminated when the wartime blackout regulations were lifted.

Big Ben has become one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom and is often in the establishing shot of films set in London, making it a prominent part of pop culture. The tower holds the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world and is the third-tallest free-standing clock tower.

Today, travelers to England are not able to tour the inside of Big Ben. But there are several vantage points that give a great view of the famous Big Ben. Check it out from ground level as you step out of the Westminster Tube Station, from the Westminster bridge or from the London Eye for a fabulous view.
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