London's St Paul's Cathedral restored to glory
St Paul's Cathedral, one of Britain's most spectacular buildings, has been fully restored to its original glory as a 15-year renovation finally came to an end Thursday.
For the first time for years, Londoners were able to see the historic building without the hindrance of scaffolding.
The £40 million ($65 million, 45.5 million euro) restoration project, one of the largest ever undertaken in Britain, has been completed in time to mark the giant cathedral's 300th anniversary.
St Paul's, which sits atop Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London financial district, is the capital's architectural centrepiece and dominated the skyline before the era of tower blocks.
Designed by Christopher Wren and built in grey Portland limestone, like many of London's most significant buildings, the Renaissance-style cathedral took 36 years to complete.
It replaced the previous St Paul's, built by the Normans, which was gutted in the 1666 Great Fire of London.
"We are thrilled that in the year that we celebrate the 300th anniversary of Wren's masterpiece, we can also mark the successful completion of this extraordinary restoration project," said the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul's.
"The two million worshippers, pilgrims and visitors who come to St Paul's each year can now witness Wren's original vision and see the cathedral as fresh as the day it was completed."
The smoke and filth of three centuries of London pollution had left the exterior blackened and damaged, but this has now been completely cleaned. More than 150,000 blocks of Portland stone were restored.
The interior has been transformed by modern conservation techniques and the light that now floods into the cathedral once again highlights its mosaics, carvings and sculptures.
A service will be held on Tuesday to mark the 300 years since the cathedral was declared complete by parliament.
Surveyor Martin Stancliffe, who oversaw the restoration, said: "It has been a privilege -- and an extraordinary experience -- to have led the team of professionals, craftsmen and conservators who have contributed so much to this transforming project.
"This great building is now in a sound state, and probably looks better than at any time since its completion in 1711."
The area in front of the Anglican cathedral has also been rebuilt to make it more in keeping with Wren's masterpiece.
St Paul's, the seat of the Bishop of London, has served as a focus for national events in its 300-year history.
The funerals of wartime heroes the Duke of Wellington, Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill took place there, as did the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.
It survived the German bombardments of World War II, with one of the most iconic photographs of London during the Blitz showing St Paul's shrouded in smoke.
© 2011 AFP