A housing estate in central London containing a concert hall and the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. (Well, it was when I wrote this for E1: they no longer spend their London season there.) Also has a pub called the Crowders Well, an old church called St Giles Cripplegate, and the Guildhall School of Music; and the arts complex includes a library, a cinema, gallery space, arts bookshops, and so on.

It is on the site of slums largely destroyed in the Second World War. Parts of its boundaries include original pieces of Roman wall. Despite being near the commercial heart of London surrounded by nothing but buildings, this and the modern water features laid out for the modern development can make it a rather charming place to relax. Well, there's nowhere else relaxing that close to the City.

It's actually within the City of London, the very small ancient heart of London that these days is almost entirely office blocks. So its population of about five thousand makes the Barbican estate one of the principal parts of the City, electorally.

Visually it's dominated by two huge towers. The towers, courts, and blocks are named after famous historical figures who lived or worked nearby at some point in their lives: Shakespeare, Cromwell, Defoe, Lancelot Andrewes, Ben Jonson, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, John Milton, Sir Thomas More, John Speed, and a few more.

Negotiating your way around the blocks, and trying to escape from the concert hall, or find your way from one storey to another, is a feat of absurd and legendary difficulty. The signposting is and always has been appalling, and the layout of the floors and stairwells simply makes no sense. (Douglas Adams in The Meaning of Liff uses the term Wendens Ambo for this fruitless quest for the exits, and the attempt to trace a swallowed object through all seven of a cow's stomachs.)

There are also prominent places still called The Barbican in York and Plymouth.

Bar"bi*can (?), Bar"ba*can (?), n. [OE. barbican, barbecan, F. barbacane, LL. barbacana, barbicana, of uncertain origin: cf. Ar. barbakh aqueduct, sewer. F. barbacane also means, an opening to let out water, loophole.]

1.

( Fort.) A tower or advanced work defending the entrance to a castle or city, as at a gate or bridge. It was often large and strong, having a ditch and drawbridge of its own.

2.

An opening in the wall of a fortress, through which missiles were discharged upon an enemy.

 

© Webster 1913.

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