Travel Shot: A view of Greenwich from the river Thames

Sometimes, it takes a larger view for things to fall into perspective. Literally. Viewing the former Royal Naval College in Greenwich (pronounced Gren-itch) from across the Thames was one such experience.

I had spent a lovely day spent at Greenwich as part of a guided walk through Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of particular interest to me were the two buildings of the former Royal Naval College, which was designed by Christopher Wren, and captured by the famous Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto. Throughout my explorations there, I kept searching for that one view that captured the beauty, simplicity and symmetry of Wren’s design, but in vain.

It wasn’t till I crossed the river Thames to the opposite bank to take the DLR back to London that I realised that I had been searching for Canaletto’s view from the wrong side. When I emerged from the underground foot tunnel, this was the beautiful sight that greeted me.

A view of the former Royal Naval College, Greenwich, from the River Thames

The early evening light enhanced the delicate blue and white palette of Wren’s buildings and they were a sight to behold. And it was this very scene, this very perspective that had inspired Canaletto to paint it sometime between 1750-52.

A view of Greenwich from the river by Canaletto. Source: http://www.tate.org.uk

Before Wren’s buildings came up, this was the site of the Greenwich Palace of the House of Tudors. It’s most famous monarch, Henry VIII and his 2 daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, were born here. The palace fell into disrepair during the English Civil War in the mid-1600s, after which it was demolished and Wren’s buildings were built between 1696 and 1712. When Canaletto painted this scene, the two buildings housed the Royal Naval Hospital, which closed in 1869. Between 1873 and 1998, this was the Royal Naval College.Today, parts of these buildings are used by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music.

Isn’t my photograph and Canaletto’s painting similar? Little seems to have changed between 1752 and 2009 (when the photograph was taken). It feels a little strange and thrilling to know that I am seeing it almost as Canaletto saw it. I wonder whether it will still look the same 250 years from now. :-)

What do you think?

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26 thoughts on “Travel Shot: A view of Greenwich from the river Thames

    • Whether the changes have been done or not, intentionally or unintentionally, it cannot be denied that the Brits are very proud of their history and take great care to maintain and preserve it. Unlike my fellow countrypeople !

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  1. very interesting perspective, sudha! love the post…. as to whether it will stay the same 250 years from now, chances are.. yes… unfortunately, as u say, we cant say the same about any of our monuments.. just returned from the saptashrungi temple at vani and though i still had a grt time, couldnt help noticing all the changes (not necessarily for the better) that have taken place in the last 5 years since i was there last…

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    • Chances are that it will stay the same, because this is in England and the English are very particular about their history. I would not have given this answer if it had been anywhere in India as even a week is enough to drastic changes to happen.

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  2. Beautiful Sudha! Shows us how we can remain unchanged despite the lapse of time. To me the most important lesson from your post is that we can remain unchanged, irrespective of the change around us! Thanks to your post and the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music for showing us that it is possible! 250 years and we can still remain the same! Thanks Sudha for showing us wisdom.

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    • Thanks, Jayess, for your very pertinent observation.

      BTW, I love the fact that due to certain changes, you are able to read my blog posts and comment on them as well. I like this change :-D

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  3. I love a part of the comment by Jayees: To me the most important lesson from your post is that we can remain unchanged, irrespective of the change around us!

    Thank you for sharing and connecting the two.
    I believe in India, we can resurrect the old monuments.
    Already a couple of my friends are working towards it.

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    • Yes, Divenita. That was a very pertinent comment indeed by Jayess, and also that we can be the change or “unchange” that we want to be.

      There are many people who are working towards restoring our old monuments, and I would like to know more about your friends’ work. :-)

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  4. If only there were a few boats in the water who would have guessed Canaletto did not paint from your photo. I would like to think that the building will stand peacefully on the banks of the river for ages to come and a 100 years from now someone will be making a comparison between their photo, your photo and Canaletto’s painting :)

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    • I prefer Canaletto’s painting to my photograph. There seems to be more life and activity in it. Hopefully the person who photographs this scene after 100 years will also have the boats and what not :-)

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