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The incredible city of London is approximately 2,000 years old as a settlement on the banks of the River Thames. The Romans invaded London in 43 A.D., naming the fortified city Londinium. They ruled the area for the next 300 years or so, until the Anglo-Saxons took over. One significan event during the Roman rule was the sacking of London by Boudicca and the Iceni tribe in AD60/61. This successful, though temporary, uprising by native British tribespeople against the foreign invaders/settlers is marked by a statue of Boudicca in a chariot just north of the Houses of Parliament on Westminster Bridge. In the 8th century, the Vikings and Danes arrived and battled it out for the power to rule. The Vikings chose not to live within the city walls, and camps outside the City arose - places remembered today through place names ending in 'wych', such as Aldwych. Ultimately, it would be the Normans who gained power in 1066 under William the Conqueror, with the capital moving to London from Winchester in the 1100s.
In 1348, the plague hit London. Flea-infested rats spread the disease, killing nearly two-thirds (about 60,000) of the Londoners estimated to have originally inhabited the area. Clergy, the poor and the imprisoned were hit especially hard. In the wake of the “Black Death,” Chaucer wrote “The Canterbury Tales,” a series of stories satirizing medieval Europe.
In the mid-15th century, the Wars of the Roses raged as two branches of the royal family tree, the Yorks and the Lancasters, fought over who had the better claim to the throne. The only battle site, which is visitable, in London is that of the Battle of Barnet (14-Apr-1471) which was decisive in that Edward's victory led to 14 years of Yorkist rule. The wars finally ended on August 22, 1485, when Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian, beat out the notorious Richard III of York at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
The reign of the Tudor dynasty, from 1485 to 1603, ushered in a golden age of prosperity. Writers Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare blossomed as cultural icons. Art and literature flourished during the English Reformation. In the 1530s, Henry VIII broke from Rome to form the Church of England and lay the foundations of Anglicanism.
In the mid-1550s, under his daughter Elizabeth I, the Age of Exploration began. After her death, anti-monarchy Parliamentarians and pro-king Royalists feuded over whether Charles I indeed held a divine right to rule. Charles I was put on trial and executed, sparking a series of civil wars that ended with Oliver Cromwell ruling as a de-facto leader from 1653 to 1658. His reign and influence did not last, and Charles II came to the throne on April 4, 1660.
In 1665 came a recurrence of the bubonic plague. The Great Plague and its successor in destruction, the Great Fire of London in 1666, wiped out 100,000 people and as much as 80 percent of London’s buildings. Christopher Wren rebuilt St. Paul’s Cathedral, along with over 60 other churches, and the city moved outward, superseding the medieval Roman walls that had long contained it.
London expanded during the coming centuries and became the capital of a vast British empire. A massive underclass supported the city’s unprecedented wealth, creating stark social divisions between the classes. London became home to the first-ever subway transit system with the opening of the Metropolitan Railway in 1863—which would double as underground air-raid shelters during the two world wars of the early 20th century.
During World War I, London suffered through German air raids. During World War II, the Blitz rained 57 days of consecutive bombings down upon London, leaving the city in ruins.
International immigration to London flourished after the Second World War. Advances in transportation accompanied the growth in population; Heathrow Airport opened to commercial flights in 1946 (replacing Croyden Aerodrome as the main international airport) and the first double-decker buses took to the roads in 1956. Major architectural projects of the end of the century included the Thames Barrier, completed in 1982 to control flooding, and the Millennium Dome of 2000, a controversial and expensive structure housing exhibits for visitors.
London’s long-standing cultural divisions have quieted and the city remains a melting pot with people from all over the globe settling down within its city limits. London remains one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and millions more visitors arrived in 2012, when the city hosted the summer Olympic Games from July 27-Aug-2012.