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New Digital Architecture Tour


Fri 25 Sep 20

Explore our grand architecture with our mobile guide

As the centrepiece of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, the classical buildings that collectively form the Old Royal Naval College were designed by some of England’s most renowned architects and are considered to be amongst the finest in Europe.

The history of the site is as rich as it is complex. The classical buildings that adorn the site today were built as the Royal Hospital for Seamen between 1696 and 1751. Designed by England’s greatest architects, including Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, the buildings are considered amongst the finest in Europe, featuring the sumptuous Painted Hall and the neo-classical Chapel. Prior to that the site was home to the celebrated Greenwich Palace, the favoured Royal residence of Henry VIII. A small part of the excavated palace, revealed during recent conservation works, can be viewed in the King William Undercroft.

The King Charles Court was commissioned by Charles II soon after he was restored to the throne in 1660. It was built on the foundations of the Tudor Palace at Greenwich and was originally intended to have been a new royal palace to compete with Louis XIV’s magnificent palace of Versailles.

Building work began in 1664 but stopped abruptly in 1672 when King Charles’s finances and interest in the project, ran out. The architect, John Webb, was an apprentice of Inigo Jones, who designed the Queen’s House. The massive paired Corinthian columns and imposing pediment reflect Webb’s deep interest in classical architecture.

In 1692, Queen Mary II issued orders that the King’s House at Greenwich, as the building became known, and the land surrounding it, be ‘converted and employed as a hospital for seamen’.

Sir Christopher Wren was the most influential English architect of his time and designed many famous buildings in London. However, he needed all his experience and skill when he worked on the Royal Hospital for Seamen.

Although he had to work around many restrictions, Sir Christopher Wren’s final plans for the Royal Hospital for Seamen were hailed as a masterpiece. Although, Wren and Hawksmoor’s classical buildings look grand enough to be a palace, they were designed to house naval veterans.

The architects who followed, Thomas Ripley, James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, John Yenn, Joseph Kay and Philip Hardwick could do little to improve on Wren’s grand design and the principal elements of the main buildings are virtually unchanged from his original plans.

The colonnades of the Old Royal Naval College frame the oldest building in the World Heritage Site, the Queen’s House. Originally designed by Inigo Jones for James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, in 1616, the Queen’s House was one of his first commissions, although he later altered and completed it in the 1630s at the request of Queen Henrietta Maria. The resulting masterpiece was one of England’s truly classical Renaissance buildings and, as such, it occupies a place in architectural history that far exceeds its relatively modest size.

Those who want to learn more about the Old Royal Naval College’s beautiful buildings can do so on the free Architecture Tour on the Smartify app.

This fascinating tour guides app-users around the site and provides with them with the opportunity to interactively learn about the incredible buildings and its notable architects.

Download Smartify on an Apple device.

Download Smartify on an Android device.