The Old Royal Naval College is the centrepiece of maritime Greenwich, just located on the River Thames towards the east of London. Maritime Greenwich is a listed UNESCO site, including Queens House, Royal Observatory and Greenwich Park (blog post to come!)
What is now the Old Royal Naval College was once formerly the site of the Palace of Placentia (Greenwich Palace) but came into disrepair and was demolished before the start of the 18th century. The site then became the Royal Hospital/Greenwich Hospital, where sailors would live once they retired (hospital originating from the word hospitality, meaning a place to stay rather than a place to receive medical care). The plan was for the Royal Hospital to be the naval equivalent of Chelsea Hospital (for soldiers). Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor were the architects for this remodelling. The hospital was closed in 1868.
The buildings became the Royal Naval College in 1873, where it operated as a ‘Naval University’, ceasing activity during World War I, where it became a barracks. Before the start of World War II, women were recruited and trained at the Royal Naval College, but all activities stopped in 1998, with the declining movement of the royal navy armed services. Nowadays, some buildings are still used as part of the University of Greenwich, especially for music subjects, when you can hear pianos or singing as you walk through the complex.
The Painted Hall is a surprise in this array of buildings. Originally planned to be the refectory/dining hall it was deemed too grand to be used for daily meals and painted between 1707-1726 by Sir James Thornhill, this 40000 square feet mural, in a baroque style of work. Thornhill later went on to paint the dome of St Paul’s and the hall of Blenheim Palace. The ceiling painting celebrates William and Mary, part of the legitimisation of their Glorious Revolution as well as the Protestant reigns of the successive monarchs, Queen Anne and George I; all piled up on clouds in a fictive architectural oval with French king’s head at their feet. It is hard to describe accurately and is well worth a visit.
Greenwich is a definite must for people visiting London, with some different attractions, and the Painted Hall is not well known at all. See London’s equivalent of the Sistine Chapel!