Thursday, March 15, 2012

Belvedere Castle: Central Park around 79th Street

Sorry it has been a while since my last post.  I have been going through some personal projects and had decided to not go crazy by adding this blog to my "must do" list.

However, I think/hope I am back on an even keel now, and I wanted to tell folks about the great walking tours provided by the Central Park Conservancy.  They have guided tours and hands on activities offered almost every day (check out their calendar at Central Park Tours).  I imagine as the weather becomes more and more mild, the tours will be more and more popular.

Today's tour began at Belvedere Castle (see left), which is a 3/4th-sized replica of a fort in Normandy, France.  It was built as a folly, simply to attract attention and be a whimsical addition to the park.  It never housed any grand personage.  And it has really only served as a weather station and an office for the Central Park Conservancy.

From the top of the castle, which is the highest point in Central Park, you can see equipment for the weather station in the Rambles to the south, the Delacorte Theater (where the summer time Shakespeare in the Park performances are held) to the north, the Great Lawn (where summer concerts are held -- the latest one being that of The Black Eyed Peas), and the man-made Turtle Pond (filled with NYC drinking water and home to 5 species of turtles) to the east (see right).

The guided tour lasts about an hour, and includes a leisurely walk between various points of interest.  I won't be a spoiler and go through all of the stops, here, but I want to just mention some of them in order to illustrate the care with which the tour was designed.  The Greywacke Arch (see above left), which is one of over 30 uniquely designed tunnels/bridges in the park, opens up to views of the back of The Metropolitan Museum (constructed to make reference to the great Egyptian pyramids). 

The statue of Polish King Jagiello (one of over 50 statues dotting the park, see above right) that was presented in NY during the Worlds Fair of 1939 and found its permanent home in Central Park when it could not be returned to Poland due to the Nazi invasion following the fair.  Then, of course, there is the great Egyptian obelisk (the oldest monument in the Park) from 1600 BC; take the time to walk all the way around the obelisk to get better views of the hieroglyphics, as the wear patterns vary greatly due to how the obelisk spent hundreds of years on its side after wars and earthquakes.

Throughout the tour, the guide answered questions from the over 20 visitors on the tour.  He was very informative about the history of the park, its construction, and restoration projects led by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.  He also shared the philosophies of the 19th century designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux who wanted the park to be a natural refuge from the City.  Insights about the variations from the original designs (there was only supposed to be one statue in the entire park--the Angel of the Waters Rising from Bethesda Terrace, also called Bethesda Fountain), the needs of the growing City, and the resurrection of the park from its graffiti-ridden and violent history of the 70s, were all woven into a very interesting hour.

I would highly recommend these free guided tours of the park.  They are casual, friendly, and enriching.  Rather than just walking through, as I have done innumerable times in the past, this time, the great vistas (see above left a view of the Great Lawn with the NYC skyline of buildings to the south) came to life.

No comments:

Post a Comment