It is believed that this was formally the site of an ancient megalith and then later a temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, in alignment with the Apollo Temple which once stood at Westminster. The current building dates from the 17th century and is of Portland stone in a Late Renaissance to Baroque style. With its impressive dome rising 108 metres (365 feet to the cross at its summit, i. e., one foot for each day of the year) it is a famous London landmark.
The cathedral runs west to east from the Great West Door. The nave has three small chapels in the two adjoining aisles - All Souls and St Dunstan's in the north aisle and the Chapel of the Order of St Michael and Saint George in the south aisle. The main space of the cathedral is centred under the Dome, it rises 108.4 metres from the cathedral floor and holds three circular galleries - the Whispering Gallery, the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery. The Quire extends to the east of the Dome and holds the stalls for the clergy and the choir as well as the cathedral's organ. The organ was first commissioned in 1694 and the current instrument is the third biggest in Britain with 7,189 pipes and 138 stops; it is enclosed in an impressive case built by Grinling Gibbons. To the north and south of the dome are the transepts of the North Quire and the South Quire. The cathedral has a very substantial crypt holding over 200 memorials as well as the OBE Chapel and the Treasury, Christopher Wren was the first person to be interred (in 1723). The cathedral has very few treasures, many have been lost and in 1810 a major robbery took almost all of the remaining precious artefacts.
A religious structure dedicated to Saint Paul has existed in London since 604. It has been damaged or destroyed on a number of occasions but has been doggedly rebuilt. The first cathedral was destroyed by fire in 675 and the second was ransacked and then destroyed by Viking forces in 962. Old St Paul's was built by the Normans in their characteristic style from 1087 and it was completed in 1310. It was the largest church in England and the third largest in Europe. The church had the highest steeple in England until 1561 when it was destroyed by fire following a lightning strike and was never rebuilt, the building then slowly fell into general disrepair. The Norman structure otherwise survived until 1666 when, scheduled for demolition, it was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
The task of designing a replacement structure was assigned to Christopher Wren in 1668 along with over fifty other churches. His first design in the shape of a Greek cross was rejected as too radical in 1669 and his second proposal was turned down in 1673 before his 'warrant' design was accepted in 1675 and building work began in June. The Wren cathedral was completed by 1710 (although the first service was held on December 2, 1697) and has survived until the present day, despite being targeted during the Blitz (it was struck by a bomb on October 9, 1940 but survived).
The cathedral has been the site for many famous funerals, including those of Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Winston Churchill. The British Royal Family hold most of their important marriages, funerals and other religious and celebratory functions at Westminster Abbey, but St Paul's was used for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
See also: Tall buildings in London