Trafalgar Square is the largest square in London and has been a central meeting place since the Middle Ages. At that time the site was called Charing. Later it became known as Charing Cross, after a memorial cross on the square. The nearby underground station - aka 'tube' - is still named Charing Cross.
From the 13th century on the area was the site of the King's Royal Hawks and later the Royal Mews. In 1812 the Prince Regent (who would later become King George V) asked the landscape architect John Nash to redevelop the area. He cleared the area but died before his plans were realized. The new design was finally implemented between 1840 and 1845 under supervision of architect Sir Charles Barry, better known for his Houses of Parliament.
In the center of the square is the tall Nelson's Column which was built to commemorate the victory of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson over the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st of October 1805. Nelson was fatally wounded during that famous battle off the Spanish coast. His body was taken back to London and buried in the St. Paul's Cathedral.
The Corinthian column was built in 1842 and is approximately 170ft or 52m high (including base). It was built after a design by William Railton chosen from a selection of 124 competition entries. On top of the column is an 18ft high statue of Lord Nelson, created by Edmund Hodges. At the base of the National Gallery column are four huge lions modeled by Sir Edwin Landseer. They were added later in 1868.
Trafalgar square also contains a large number of statues and two fountains by Sir Edwin Lutyens, added in 1939. The square is surrounded by many great buildings. On the north side is the neo-classical National Gallery, built between 1834 and 1838. It houses a collection of more than 2300 paintings, including work from van Gogh, Renoir, Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Monet.
On the east side the square is bordered by the Canada House, completed in 1827. Opposite the Canada House is the South Africa House, which opened in 1933.
At the north-east corner is the St. Martin-in-the-Fields parish church. The church with a large white steeple was built in 1721 by James Gibbs and was used as a model for many churches, especially in the United States. It is the fourth church at this site, the first was built in the 13th century.
The north side of the square was redeveloped in 2003. The area in front of the National Gallery was pedestrianized and a flight of stairs now leads to the museum. A great improvement from the past when people had to cross a busy road in order to get to museum.