The Princess Diana Memorial, Hyde Park, London

During my first walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I noticed these markers in the pavement, guiding the visitor to the Princess Diana Memorial.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go see it.  I remember her death all too well, just like I can remember the day President Kennedy was shot.  Markers of time that I wish I could forget.

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In the end, I couldn’t not go.  I’m so glad I did.  It is a lovely, lighthearted place.  I think Diana would have loved it.  On the sunny Sunday afternoon I was there, families and especially children were enjoying the water as it flowed through the monument.  I loved it.  But, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures.  It was still too raw for me.

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The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a memorial in London dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in 1997. It was designed to express Diana’s spirit and love of children.

The fountain was built with the best materials, talent and technology. It contains 545 pieces of Cornish granite – each shaped by the latest computer-controlled machinery and pieced together using traditional skills.

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The design aims to reflect Diana’s life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn from London’s water table.

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The Memorial also symbolises Diana’s quality and openness. There are three bridges where you can cross the water and go right to the heart of the fountain.

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The memorial was designed by American landscape architect and artist Kathryn Gustafson.

 

The fountain is located in the southwest corner of Hyde Park, just south of the Serpentine lake and east of the Serpentine Gallery. Its cornerstone was laid in September 2003 and it was officially opened on 6 July 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II.  Also present were Diana’s younger brother Charles Spencer, her ex-husband Prince Charles, and her sons William and Harry.

Working on the project began in 2001. The fountain was designed by Gustafson Porter.  Kathryn Gustafson, an American landscape artist said she had wanted the fountain, which was built to the south of the Serpentine, to be accessible and to reflect Diana’s “inclusive” personality. Gustafson said: “Above all I hope that it provides a fitting memorial for the princess and does credit to the amazing person that she was.”

The memorial has the form of a large, oval stream bed about 165 by 260 ft that surrounds, and is surrounded by, a lush grassy field. The granite stream bed is from 10 to 20 ft wide. It is quite shallow and is laid out on a gently sloping portion of the park, so that water pumped to the top of the oval flows down either side. One side of the stream bed descends fairly smoothly to the downhill end of the oval with gentle ripples; the other side consists of a variety of steps, rills, curves, and other shapes so that the water plays in interesting ways as it flows to the tranquil pool at the bottom. The two sides were intended to show two sides of Diana’s life: happy times, and turmoil.

 

https://www.archdaily.com/803509/diana-princess-of-wales-memorial-fountain-gustafson-porter-plus-bowman

 

The Italian Gardens, Kensington Gardens

You might know that almost the first place I would go once I got to London would be the “Italian Gardens!”  Ma, certo! Like a bee to honey.

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This lovely, smallish ornamental water garden was created in the 1860s and is to be found on the north side of park, near Lancaster Gate. It is believed the garden was a gift from Prince Albert  (he died 1861) to his beloved wife, Queen Victoria. Regardless of the why, they are now recognized as a site of particular importance and are listed Grade II by Historic England.

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Portraits of Victoria and Albert flank the 2 sides of the balustrades overlooking the lake.

 

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BTW, about once every six months while I am living in Italy I will see something in some work of art that causes me to say: “that’s a new one–I’ve never seen that before.”  I love it when that happens.

But, today, at the Italian Gardens, I had one of those moments, caused by the bas-relief below:

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I’ve seen a lot of weird images captured in marble sculpture, especially in the form of putti of various stripes, but I have never seen a rifle in a Neo-classical sculpture before today!  A detail of it is below:

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The Italian Gardens are found within the grounds of Kensington Gardens; you can locate them at the top of the Serpentine River in the map below:

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The Italian Gardens are an elaborate mix of four main basins. They feature central rosettes carved in Carrara marble, the Portland stone and white marble Tazza Fountain, and a collection of stone statues and urns. It’s fun to see if you can spot the five main urn designs – a swan’s breast, woman’s head, ram’s head, dolphin and oval.

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Strengthening the supposition that this decorative complex was commissioned by Prince Albert is the fact that the layout of the Italian Gardens is very similar to that of Osborne House on The Isle of Wight, where the royal family spent holidays.  Prince Albert was a keen gardener and took charge of the gardens at Osborne House, where he introduced an Italian garden with large raised terraces, fountains, urns and geometric flower beds.

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It’s thought that in 1860 he brought the idea to Kensington Gardens. The design by James Pennethorne includes many features of the Osborne garden.

The initials of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert can be found on one of the walls of the Pump House, at the north of the gardens.

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fullsizeoutput_13fe You can see the V & A monogram in this photo.

 

This building once contained a steam engine which operated the fountains – the pillar on the roof is a cleverly-disguised chimney. A stoker kept the engine running on Saturday nights to pump water into the Round Pond, so on Sundays there was enough water pressure to run the fountains.

In 2011, the gardens were restored to their original splendour. The project involved:

  • Restoring the original stonework. This included carving eight life-sized swan heads and necks as replacement handles on some of the urns.
  • Restoring the Tazza Fountain. Fine stone carving was carried out on-site. The central rosettes also needed careful cleaning and some sections were replaced with newly-carved marble.
  • A new planting scheme to recapture the Victorian vision and help maintain water quality. Native water lilies, yellow flag iris, flowering rush and purple loosestrife are rooted in cages just below the water. New walkways help ducks get in and out of the water.
  • A new cleaner water system and water quality improvements. 13 tons of silt were removed from the fountain basins during the restoration. The fountains are now fed with fresh water from a borehole. The water is aerated and its temperature raised as it leaps in the air, before flowing out into the Long Water.  Happily, this improves the ecology of the lake.

The restoration was funded by The Tiffany and Co. Foundation as part of a project to restore ornamental and drinking fountains across the eight Royal Parks, and known as Tiffany – Across the Water.

Also, just for fun, the Italian Gardens have provided a star location in several films.