Whitehall, the broad avenue connecting Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square, is synonymous with the faceless, pi-striped bureaucracy charged with the day-to-day running of the country. Since the sixteenth century, nearly all the key governmental ministries and offices have migrated here, rehousing themselves on an ever-increasing scale, a process which reached its apogee with the grimly bland Ministry of Defence building, the largest office block in London when it was completed in 1957. The original Whitehall Palace was the London seat of the Archbishop of York, confiscated and greatly extend by Henry VIII after a fire at Westminster forced him to find alternative accommodation. Little survived the fire of 1698, caused by a Dutch laundrywoman, after which, partly due to the dank conditions in this part of town, the royal residence shifted to St James's.
The palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament, is London's best-known monument. The "mother of all parliaments" and the "world's largest building" - or it was claimed at that time- it is also the city's finest Victorian building, the symbol of a nation once confident of its place at the centre of the world. Best viewed from the south side of the river, where the likes of Monet and Turner set up their easels, the building is distinguished above all by the ornate, gilded clock tower popularly known as Big Ben, which is at its most impressive at night when the clock-face is lit up.
The original Westminster Palace was built by Edward the Confessor in the first half of the eleventh century, so that he could watch over the building of his abbey. It then served as the seat of all the English monarchs until a fire forced Henry VIII to decamp to Whitehall. The Lords have always convened at the palace, but it was only following Henry's death that the House of Commons moved from the abbey's Chapter House into the palace's St Stephen's Chapel, thus beginning the building's associations with the parliament.