Thursday, March 15, 2012
Belvedere Castle: Central Park around 79th Street
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.
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.