Tag Archives: history

Historic Akaroa

Akaroa, on Banks peninsula, in Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island, has a superb setting, a fascinating bi-cultural history, quaint colonial architecture, a great ambiance and a small, artistic, welcoming population that seems dedicated to preserving and sharing all four.

Akaroa from above

The township sits at the edge of a long, deep harbour, in the shelter of steep, gold and dark green hills.  Against them the sea is luminescent turquoise. The long view from the summit road overlooking the town is one of the country’s best and most memorable.

Akaroa’s human history begins some 800 years ago, with the arrival of the great fleet from Hawaiki.  The first Iwi, or tribe, to settle here were Waitaha, followed later by Ngati Mamoe and later still, in the 17th century, by Ngai Tahu. The hilltops are still traced with the terraces of ancient pas. Modern settlements, Marae and churches now stand on the sites of ancient villages and the descendants of those first Iwi still live, meet and worship there.  

By the 1830s, Akaroa had become a European whaling centre. Then, in 1838, with a view to establishing a French colony, Captain Jean Langlois negotiated a land deal with the local Iwi and set sail for France to seek funds and to recruit settlers. By the time he returned, the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed, the Union Jack was flying from the hilltop and the land deal was declared invalid. Nonetheless, the French stayed and Akaroa village became Aotearoa New Zealand’s little patch of France. It still is and many of the descendants of those first French settlers still live in the district. French family, and first names, are common here.

 To learn more about the history of the area, visit the Akaroa Museum.  Both the displays and the film, shown in the Courthouse theatre next door, give an excellent overview.  Be sure too, to take a drive to the Maori and Colonial Museum at historic Okains Bay.

Akaroa signage.

To steep yourself in the ambiance of Akaroa, take a stroll through the streets – or rather, rues and chemins – past charming colonial houses with tall, narrow windows and tiny front gardens, blooming with the daisies, hydrangeas and roses typical of the south of France. Study the French signage! Browse in the shops, check out the local produce, the antiques, the crafts and the art. Stop for a coffee or a meal in one of the town’s cafes and restaurants français. Explore the old French Cemetery. Light a candle at historic St Patrick’s Church. Head out to the wharf for a magnificent harbour view and with a bit of luck you’ll see a cruise ship sail in or out.

To experience truly outstanding and unforgettable Akaroa hospitality, stay at beautiful Beaufort House. 

Beautiful Beaufort House

More of this in Travelstripe’s next post. 



Ferrymead Heritage Park

Located at the foot of Christchurch’s Port Hills, on the site, initially, of an ancient Maori hunting ground and later, of Zealand’s first public railway, Ferrymead Heritage Park includes the model town of Moorhouse (old Christchurch from colonial times to the 1920s) as well as a transport and technology museum.

The Grocer's store at Ferrymead
The Grocer’s store at Ferrymead

On weekends and during holidays, a team of dedicated volunteers mans the businesses and transport of Moorhouse and visitors stream into the little town to ride the tram and the old steam train.

On the Thursday afternoon that we visited Ferrymead all its attractions were ‘static’, which meant that neither the transport, nor the businesses in the town were manned and operating. Still everything was open and the whole of Moorhouse was ours.

We could visit one another in “our” cottages and shops. We could linger in the dimly-lit church and in the spooky gaol, where a criminal dummy lay stretched on a bed, staring with glassy eyes at a small barred window. We could tinker with the pumps in the street and potter with the gadgets in the sheds. We could sit in the single classroom in the little school. We could push buttons and follow tiny trains around miniature landscapes, through tunnels, points, signals and crossings in the model railway shed. We could hide in the thunderbox outhouse and scuff along dusty roads.

There were huge garages lined with motors from every era. There were hangars full of aeroplanes, including an old NAC Friendship like the one on which I took my first flight in the 1960s.

It was a great afternoon for all of us – a lovely walk down Memory Lane for the baby boomers and a fabulous flight of imagination for the 21st century kids.

Maunga Whau Mount Eden, Auckland’s High Point

Every great city has its high point. There are towers, like the Eiffel of Paris or Dubai’s Burj. There are tall buildings, like New York’s Empire State or Melbourne’s Eureka. Then there are mountains like Rio’s Corcorvado or Capetown’s Table. New Zealand’s Auckland or Tamaki Makaurau, boasts two high points – the giant syringe, known as the Sky Tower and Maunga Whau, or Mount Eden.

Auckland City From Mount Eden, Maunga Whau
Auckland City From Mount Eden, Maunga Whau

The tallest of Tamaki Makaurau’s 48 extinct volcanoes, Maunga Whau offers a 360 view of the region, from east to west coast, over the sea to north, away across the plains to the south and all around its 47 sister cones. Terraces on its slopes mark the site of the Pa or fortified village which stood here in ancient times. As enemies could be seen approaching from great distances and from any direction it was virtually unassailable. Consequently, the Tangata Whenua, or people of the land here enjoyed a position of some superiority and power.

Whau in Te Reo Maori, or the Maori language means tree or wood and Maunga Whau is home to some magnificent pohutukawa and totara tree which probably date back to the time of our Maori ancestors.

Today Maunga Whau belongs to all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand. They jog, cycle, tramp, stroll, picnic, celebrate, take time out and sell crafts and souvenirs here. Messages of love and proposals of marriage are spelt out in volcanic stones, in the clearings between clumps of flax and stands of trees on the grassy, undulating terraces. The lower slopes are given over to a government farm and sheep graze in lush green paddocks.

Just below Maunga Whau is the port of Auckland, named Te Herenga Waka or the mooring place of canoes, by the Tangata Whenua, because of the hosts of waka or canoes that anchored on their voyages up and down the islands of Aotearoa. Now giant cruise ships lie at anchor in Te Herenga Waka. Out beyond it on Auckland’s twin harbours, the Manukau and the Waitemata, some 135 yachts and launches ply the waves. Today, Auckland, as well as the mooring place of the canoes, is also the “city of sails”. 60,500 of the country’s 149,900 registered yachtsmen come from the Auckland Region and its Westhaven Marina is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Even if they’re not boaties, Aucklanders are sea creatures. They head for the water at every spare moment. Most inner city suburbs have their beach or their bay and no point in greater Auckland is more than thirty minutes from the sea. You can walk from one side of the city to the other, without once losing sight of it. From Maunga Whau, the two harbours, Manukau to the West and Waitemata to the East, seem to wrap like blue silk around the green, hilly landscape.

Green spaces and trees are closely kept here in Auckland. And away from Maunga Whau on all sides roll houses in gardens with lawns and trees. The lush acres and spreading trees of the Auckland Domain press in against the city on one side. The sea wraps around the others. The CBD is small with modest towers and high rise. Only the Sky Tower rises up to jab the clouds like a huge hypodermic needle. The architectural standout in the Auckland landscape, from any point, is the War Memorial Museum which sits in the domain on the edge of Auckland’s smallest crater.

For bird’s eye view of Auckland and the get the lie of the land Maunga Whau take a trip to the top of Maunga Whau.

Singapore’s Chinatown

In contrast to the fragmented remnants of the British settlement in the west and centre of Singapore, Chinatown, on the south side of the river, remains contained and complete within the boundaries marked out in Stamford Raffles town plan of 1822. Little of the high-rise development that marks so much of modern Singapore has invaded to disrupt Chinatown’s continuity. It lurks at the edges, nonetheless, a ring of stark, concrete and glass towers, dwarfing the two storeyed shop houses, accentuating the narrow streets and throwing their bright colours and constant movement into sharp relief. .


A street in Singapore's Chinatown
A street in Singapore’s Chinatown

Chinatown’s history is one of hardship and struggle. The original settlers were mostly men who had fled bleak times in their homelands to seek their fortunes in the flourishing new British port. Most came from the provinces of China, some were Peranakan, or Straits Chinese from Southern Malaya and others Indian. All settled in their own enclaves within the Canton. During the gruelling early years, the men were pressed into virtual slavery as coolies in the go-downs, or warehouses, on the riverside docks. Soon hawkers, traders and tradesmen arrived to service the needs of the new community; letter writers, who provided the only means of communication between the mostly illiterate workers and their families at home, tailors, clog-makers and rickshaw runners. In time businesses were established; medicine shops to minister to exhausted and often opium addicted labourers, gold and jewellery shops, where the workers, always distrustful of banks, could invest their money and Bak Kwa shops, selling traditional barbequed meat.

Few women settlers arrived before 1870 but eventually, wives followed long-lost husbands and soon whole families migrated. Skilled, disciplined and beautiful as Japanese Geisha, Pipa Girls, so named because of the stringed instrument they played, arrived to entertain in the leisure clubs. Places of worship were built; the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple and the Jamae Chulia Mosque. By the beginning of the 19th Chinatown was a thriving community with a strong spirit. It was this fiercely loyal, battling community spirit that sustained it through the dark days of the Japanese occupation and enabled it to re-build. .

Chinatown is still a strong community and a thriving one. Old traditions still survive. Old festivals and rituals are still observed. The Temples and the Mosque still fill with the faithful. Offerings of incense, moon cakes and oranges still lie before its shrines . Old men still play checkers in Kreta Ayer Square outside the Buddha Tooth Temple. Although the Pipa girls have gone, along with the letter writers and the clog-makers, the flourishing Chinatown Crafts Centre keeps ancient skills and handicrafts alive. The rickshaws have become tri-shaws, no longer pulled but peddled and by men in baseball caps rather than coolie hats. Although many old businesses have vanished, some remain. Eu Yan Sang’s Traditional Chinese Medicine shop is one of them. Founded in 1879 by Eu Kong, the business now sells thousands of different products and has outlets all over Asia. On Cheong Jewellery, one of Chinatown’s original gold merchants is another. Lim Ghee Guan and Bee Cheng Hiang have been selling Bak Kwa for almost a century.

Alongside these enterprises from a past age, in the narrow streets of last century, in the old shop houses, lit now with fluorescent and neon, new businesses flourish. There are state of the art electronics shops. Antique galleries sell beautiful things from all over Asia as well as distinctive Peranakan treasures; furniture, ornaments, china, household linen and jewellery. There are emporiums filled with gorgeous modern Chinoiserie; bags, boxes, fans, tunics, robes, Cheong Sams of every colour, cut and design, beautiful Peranakan Nyonya Kebaya and Sarong Kebaya and accessories to go with them. Tailors offer packages and specials, made to measure in 8 hours and delivered to any hotel or corner of the world. Restaurants serve cuisine from every region of China, along with Indian, Malaysian, Thai, famous local dishes, like Singapore noodles, naturally, and believe it or not, there’s even a German sausage stall, Eric’s Wuerstelstand! Today, business booms, both day and night in Chinatown.

For a real taste of Chinatown as it was in it early days, visit the Chinatown heritage Centre, in Pagoda Street. Walk down the dark, narrow alleys; stand in the tiny cramped houses. See what life was like for those first settlers who laid the foundations of modern, prosperous Chinatown. Or better still, trace Chinatown’s fascinating history and the stories of the people who struggled and celebrated, lived and died here, through the poignant photographs of the Yup Cheong-Fun, keen and sensitive observer, brilliant artist and “Honorary Outstanding Photographer of the Century”


Milestones in Singapore’s history

Singapore's White Lion
Singapore’s White Lion

Singapore’s history begins with the Sumatran Prince, Sing Nila Utama sometime in the 14th century. Legend has it that when he landed on the island, then known as Temasek, Sing saw a white lion crouched at the edge of the sea. Believing it to be an omen, he re-named Temasek Singa Pura, or Lion City.

Singapore’s modern history began when, on February 19, 1819, Singa Pura’s Malay Ruler, Tengku Long, signed a Treaty with British Governor Sir Stamford Raffles, allowing the establishment of a port. Soon after, Singapore became a British colony, with Sir William Farquhar as Governor and Tengku Long, now re-named Hussein, as Sultan..

Trade coursed through the new port, which was free and open to ships from any nation. As migrants flooded in from China, India, Malaya and Europe they were assigned to their own separate areas of the city. The population burgeoned and Singapore flourished, taking the lead in Asia as melting pot for different ideas and cultures.

On February 15th, 1942 the Japanese took control of Singapore and re-named it Syonan-to or Light of the South. Japanese became the official language and all systems and institutions were run by the Japanese. British and allied Singaporeans were interned. Chinese and Malay Singaporeans were pressed into slave labour. Times were hard and the regime harsh. Rationing was strict, food was scarce and malnutrition commonplace.

Independence from Britain followed the post-war re-build and in 1963, Singapore joined Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia. The union was short-lived and Singapore separated from Malaysia on August, 9, 1965.

Enormous efforts were poured into ensuring the new, independent island state’s survival. Changi airport was built and Singapore Airlines established. Oil refineries and the electronics industry were fostered. A world class financial market was developed and the port of Singapore became one of the busiest in the world.

Today, Singapore is a thriving, modern industrial city state with a clean, green environment. It still leads as melting pot of ideas and cultures and it looks set for an exciting future.

A wealth of great museums tell Singapore’s story. The following three, in particular, are a  must for a fascinating insight into Singapore’s past, present and future.

Fort Siloso Museum on Sentosa Island recaptures seafarer, Sing Nila Utama’s adventures, British colonization, the lives of some the settlers whose grit and determination built early Singapore and the dark days of the Japanese occupation.

The Asian Civilisations Museum, in Empress Place looks at the context of rich and varied Asian cultures in which Singapore sits and also at the unique Peranakan, or Straits Chinese culture with its beautiful traditions of furniture, china, costumes, food and customs which such an important part of Singapore’s story.

The Singapore City Gallery shows Singapore as it is today, with a 3D model of the island, an aerial map, a map pin-pointing interesting nooks and crannies, a transport map, models of Singapore’s architectural highlights and glimpses into future developments and best of a “planner’s table” which allows visitor’s to play at shaping the Singapore of tomorrow.

More lists of Museums can be obtained from Singapore Visitor Information Centres at Changi Airport and all over the city or on http://visitsingapore.com


Although it was the largest and one of the most prosperous cities in mediaeval Europe and the seat of the Norman and Anglo/Norman Dynasties from the 11th to the 15th centuries, Rouen owes most of its fame to a humble peasant girl and her tragic end.

Rouen Cathedral
Rouen Cathedral

Jeanne D’Arc, or the maid of Orleans, was born 1412. Claiming divine guidance, she led the French Army to a number of important victories during the Hundred Years War. Needless to say, she made many enemies. Eventually, she was captured, tried for witchcraft at burned at the stake in the place now known as Le Vieux Marché, in Rouen on May, 30, 1431, at the age of 19 years. Twenty five years after the execution, Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, pronounced her innocent and declared her a martyr. St Jeanne D’Arc was canonised in 1920 and become one of the patron saints of France.

The Church of Saint Jeanne now stands in le Vieux Marche, on the site where she was immolated. Built in 1979, it is a large structure whose form represents an upturned Viking boat. Its beautiful stained glass windows were rescued from the church of Saint Vincent which stood nearby until it was destroyed in the bombings of World War II.

Rouen is also famous for its magnificent Cathedral which has survived war, fire and storms since the 12th century.

La Tour Eiffel, symbol of France

La Tour Eiffel is one of the world’s great towers and certainly the most powerful symbol of France.

The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero
The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero

Although by modern standards, it’s relatively small structure, the Eiffel Tower dominates both the Paris skyline and the Parisian consciousness. A view of the Eiffel tower is one of the most coveted in the city. For the visitor, that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower says “I’m in Paris, I’ve really arrived”.

Designed by German Gustave Eiffel for L’Exposition Universelle marking the turn of the 20th century, the Eiffel Tower was built as illustration of the endless possibilities of the construction materials and techniques of the new age. It was a tribute to the wonders of steel and the imaginative daring of modern man. Millions of rivets, screws, bolts, struts and braces went into lifting it beyond the bounds of contemporary possibility. The eyes of all Paris were on it as it ascended higher and higher dominating the Champs de Mars and the River Seine, dwarfing the golden tower of Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. “Where would it end?  ”How would end?”

Originally, the Eiffel Tower was intended as a temporary installation, for the duration of the Exhibition only.  When it was announced that the tower would remain, there was vociferous division among the people of Paris. Some deplored it as an eyesore. Others hailed it as a masterpiece. The Eiffel Tower however, remained.

The Eiffel Tower soon became part of the Paris story. It has seen many celebrations; the centenary of the French Revolution, the end of World War I and II, the turn of the 21st century, countless Bastille days and marked innumerable French sporting moments. Whatever the occasion, La Tour Eiffel will be found, dressed to perfection for it!

La Tour Eiffel, dressed for the 2007 Rugby World Cup
La Tour Eiffel, dressed for the 2007 Rugby World Cup

La Tour Eiffel has seen hundreds of stunts; fly-overs, fly unders,  parachute jumps and bungy jumps. It has also seen its share of romantic moments and I imagine that the marriage proposal I witnessed when I was last there was one of many.

Ascending the Eiffel Tower is a tourism imperative, whether in its crowded, creaking lifts, or on its winding stairs. The view from the top is breathtaking!

Undoubtedly the most luxurious way to enjoy the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is from a window able in the famous Jules Verne Restaurant.

Notre Dame, the heart of Paris

Notre Dame de Paris stands, like a majestic Gothic flagship, on the Eastern end of the Ile de La Cite, in the centre of the River Seine, at the heart of Paris.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

In a sense, it’s also at the centre of France, as Point Zero, the designated reference point for measuring distances along the roads leading out of the capital, is located in the square in front. Tradition holds that the visitor who stands at Point Zero ensures a return to Paris.

Spiritually, too, Notre Dame is at the heart of Paris and of France. It is home to the Archbishop of Paris and as the Cathedral of Paris, is the city’s largest and foremost place of worship. It has been the stage for many great state occasions, both religious, like General de Gaulle’s thanksgiving Mass at the end of World War II and secular, like the Coronation of Napoleon.

Notre Dame is one of the earliest and finest examples of Gothic architecture. Conceived by Bishop Maurice de Sully, Notre Dame took 182 years to build – the duration of the entire Gothic era! The foundation stone was laid in 1163 and it was finally completed in1345. It reflects not only the different ideas and skills of the generations of stone-masons, carpenters, labourers and architects who worked on it but also the developing Gothic movement. The like of the stained-glass rose windows in the north, south and west walls had never been seen before. Neither had the famous flying buttresses, now a part of the majesty of this architecture but which were, in fact, an innovation born of the necessity to support the thinner walls, which developed stress fractures as they rose higher.

Like most great old Parisian monuments Notre Dame has been battered by the storms of history. During the Revolution, it was threatened with destruction as a bastion of the detested church and aristocracy. But while its windows were smashed and its statues beheaded – in the belief that they represented the French Kings, the church and it bell were saved. Under the new regime it became a “Temple to Reason” then a warehouse for storing food. In 1845 it was restored and used as a church again. But in 1871, the Paris Commune decided to burn it down. Once more it was saved. In 1939, fearing an attack from German bombers, the then Archbishop had the precious stained-glass windows removed. They remained hidden in safety for the duration of the war.

Like all ancient buildings, Notre Dame has been buffeted by time and the elements. In our times, maintenance, repairs and restoration are continuous and the cathedral’s face is often hidden behind an armour of scaffolding and mesh screens. However, Notre Dame was not always so well cared for. During the nineteenth century, it had fallen into such a state of disrepair that demolition seemed likely. Salvation this time came from an unlikely source. The novelist Victor Hugo, a great admirer of the Cathedral, wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the “beauty and the beast” love story of Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer, who lived in the cathedral tower and Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy who danced in the square below. The novel captured the imagination of the Parisian public and highlighted the plight of the church. A fundraising campaign was begun and Notre Dame was redeemed and restored. Other churches in need of funding for their charity campaigns or restoration projects may choose to leverage the power of the internet by setting themselves up on a crowdfunding platform like GoFundMe to reach out to more potential donors online.

Victor Hugo’s story has become one of the immortal classics, translated into hundreds of languages, retold in thousands of versions, in countless plays and in numerous films, including the charming Disney cartoon. In the process, Notre Dame, too has been immortalized, its fame spread to the four corners of the earth. Millions of tourists come to climb the 387 steps to its tower and to marvel at the stone monarchs of Judea and Israel standing guard on its façade. Pilgrims, Catholic and non-Catholic alike flock to Mass here.

Yet, for all the queues, the crowds and the constant movement, Notre Dame is first and foremost, a place of prayer and the spirit. There a smell of incense and lilies, a dim light, pierced by muted rays from the rose windows and deep shadows. There are prayerful, peaceful corners where lighted candles and tokens of petition and thanksgiving bear testament to the faithful. Notre Dame is still a church.


Café Edison, a quintessential piece of New York

Breakfast was not included in my deal at the W Hotel in Times Square. If it had been, I would never have discovered the Café Edison. To have missed this iconic Broadway eatery would have been to miss a quintessential piece of New York.

Café Edison
Café Edison

Housed in the former ballroom of Edison Hotel, at 228 West 47th Street, in the heart of Broadway, the café’s mirrored bar and booths with benches sit under a vaulted blue ceiling and between pink walls busily embossed with white. Added to this is a pastiche  of posters, homey art works that look like the oeuvres of some rising family star, fragments of menu, advertisements and framed newspaper article that proudly blow the trumpet of this theatre world landmark.

Theatre patrons, stage-hands, actors, producers and playwrights all congregate here. Plays are conceived and written here. August Wilson dashed off the notes for three of his scripts on Cafe Edison napkins. Neil Simon’s comedy, 45 Seconds From Broadway is about this café which he claimed as his second home, whose staff he embraced as his family and where he could always be found at his special, reserved, cordoned off table, just inside the front door. Big theatre deals are clinched and important Broadway decisions, like who’s up for a Tony, are thrashed out at the Café Edison’s tables.

The café is also known as the Polish Tea Room, which according to N.Y.C. lore, is a nod, or rather a dig, at the prestigious, expensive and now long-gone, Russian Tea Room. But it is also, surely, a tribute to the Café’s Polish founders Harry and Frances Edelstein and to the legendary Polish Jewish cuisine that the Edelstein family have turned out over two generations. The menu includes Latkes, matzo brei, borscht, stuffed cabbage, corned beef, pastrami, lightly fried blintzes stuffed with sweetened cheese, blueberries or cherries, giant open-faced reubens, kasha varmishkas, mazzo brei, an assortment of soups, including, according to Condé Nast Traveler, “the best matzo ball soup in town” and fabulous breakfasts with eggs “over easy” and endless coffee.

Wielding the coffee pots is a gaggle of waitresses of an appearance, age and style that strongly reminded me of an already dated sit-com called Alice which I watched every day during at 1.pm during the summer of 1983 while I breast-fed my newborn son. Other reviewers have described them as “short”, “rude”, “crabby” and “off-hand”. But to me, they had the weary, long-suffering, matter-of-fact, business-like demeanor of working mothers with jobs to do, mouths to feed and messes to clean-up before they could get off their feet. So, cups were filled, toast was replenished and extras added to meals without fuss or favour because they knew, or seemed to, what all their customers needed before they did themselves and it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest if they’d slapped some hands and wiped some chins into the bargain.

Don’t miss the Café Edison on your New York adventure, it’s worth it for architecture, the people watching, the exceptional (though not in the conventional sense) service and absolutely unreservedly for the food.

A short history of Greenwich Village

New York, they say, is a series of villages, each with its own distinctive character. This is what makes it so diverse and endlessly fascinating. But of all the villages in the Big Apple, none is more famous and interesting than Greenwich Village.

Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village

The American Indians called the patch land which lies between 14th Street, Houston Street, Broadway and the Hudson River Sapokanikan, or tobacco field. In the 17th century, the Dutch arrived and the farmers settled at Sapokanikan named it Noortwyck. In 1664 the British invaded, ousted the Dutch and established their city of New York nearby. Noortwyck became the site of the city cemetery. Still the former Dutch hamlet continued to develop until it officially became the village of Grin’wich in 1713. In 1822 a yellow fever epidemic in the city brought a new wave of settlers to Greenwich Village. It grew. At the same time New York was advancing to meet it and within a decade had absorbed it – the burial ground along with the narrow, oddly angled streets whose names remembered early villagers. The old burial ground became Washington Military Parade Ground and by the 1830s the surrounding streets were some of New York’s most desirable addresses, lined with respectable terraced housing. A few years later the parade ground was developed as a public park and to mark the anniversary of George Washington’s death the landmark arch was built. Soon Washington Square became the heart and centre of the village.


In 1831 New York University was established at the edge of Washington Square. It was the brainchild of Albert Gallatin, secretary of the Treasury under President Thomas Jefferson. His aim was to found “in this immense and fast-growing city …a system of rational and practical education fitting for all and graciously open to all”. The new university attracted scholars and intellectuals, many of them from outside the upper classes who had traditionally filled the universities and furthermore free of their social. Around them gathered the artists, the actors, the musicians, writers and the avant garde set who were to forge Greenwich Village’s fame.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Greenwich Village was an enclave of culture. In 1914, Gertrude Whitney opened the Whitney studio Club, where emerging artists could exhibit their works at 8 West 8th Street. In 1931 it became the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1936 abstract Expressionist Hans Hoffman set up an art school in West 9th Street and taught there until 1958. In 1964, when the Whitney moved to its present location, 8 West 8th Street became home to the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, founded by artist Mercedes Matter.

The performing arts thrived. Isadora Duncan, the matriarch of modern dance, lived and worked from the Village. Iconic New York Theatres opened, like the Cherry Lane and the Astor Place. Music flourished. Jazz took root here in its early days and by the 1950s Greenwich Village was New York’s centre of underground jazz. With the 1960s came folk music and the truly great names of the genre all seem to have got their start in Greenwich Village. The Mamas and the Papas met here. Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and Tom Paxton found fame here. Bob Dylan wrote and debuted most of his first, timeless greats in Greenwich Village. Nina Simone, Barbra Streisand, Simon and Garfunkel, The Velvet Underground and the legendary Jimi Hendrix were all talents “born” in the Village. Then, of course, there were the Village People. Music clubs proliferated – the Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, Café Wha, the Bitter End and the Lion’s Den.

Many writers, too, made their homes in Greenwich Village, including the playwright Eugene O’Neill. Dylan Thomas lived here and collapsed while on a bender at the Whitehorse Tavern in 1953. Works of literature were set in the village, most notably those of poet Allen Ginsburg and novelists William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Village bookstores and publications reflected the diverse and (for those times) tolerant character of the community. The Oscar Wilde bookshop, established in Greenwich Village in 1967 is the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore in the world. The news weekly, the Village Voice, was the counterculture mouthpiece, the watchdog and critic of stale, stuffy old Middle America.

From the beginning, Greenwich Village had been a haven for a Bohemian set who disregarded conventional values and mores. One such was the French painter Marcel Duchamp struck a revolutionary blow by launching balloons from the Washington Square Arch and declaring Greenwich Village an independent state. In the 1950s a new and different kind of revolutionary, on the run from mainstream society and its oppressive conventions, sought refuge in the tolerant streets of Greenwich Village. These were students, writers, artists, musicians, idealists and free thinkers who would soon come to be known as the Beat Generation, then the Beats, then Beatniks. They prepared the ground and sowed the seeds of the great cultural and social revolution which was to follow in the next decade – the hippie movement. And following that, Greenwich Village became the epi-centre of Gay Liberation.

So, what is Greenwich Village like today? Find out in Travelstripe’s next post.