Thursday, 11 August 2011

Piccadilly Circus, London

Piccadilly Circus in 1896 with Eros
statue on the left

They used to say that if you stood at London's Piccadilly Circus long enough then you would bump into everyone that you'd ever met in your life. It is not only the centre of London (though technically this is the nearby statue of Charles I mounted on a horse on the south side of Trafalgar Square), in former times it was also regarded as the hub of the Empire.

Of course one thing that you won't find there is a circus, at least not in the modern sense of the word, viz. a travelling company of performers. It is a circus in the original Middle English sense of a rounded open space where several streets converge, and which comes from the Latin for 'ring or circus', with echoes of an ancient Roman arena for equestrian and sporting events.

At the centre is the Shaftsbury Memorial Fountain with its famous statue of Anteros, in Greek mythology the god of requited love, though  the figure on the fountain is popularly known as Eros, the god of sensual love, known to the Romans as Cupid. 

Beneath the circus is the Piccadilly Circus tube station which in 2006 celebrated its 100th anniversary. In 1986, along with Bond Street tube station, it was the setting for a video to promote Paul McCartney's record Press, and featured Macca walking around the station. It has since become a place of pilgrimage for McCartney fans anxious to walk in his footsteps and be McPressed.

But perhaps Piccadilly Circus's biggest visitor attractions are its neon lights and its atmosphere. There is common saying to describe a place which is very busy - we say that it is 'like Piccadilly Circus in here'. And with its crowds of tourists and Londoners nowhere is more like Piccadilly Circus than Piccadilly Circus. And if you haven't been there already, don't worry, because one day - you will!

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