Trafalgar Square is a public square in the City of Westminster, Central London, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar.
The site of Trafalgar Square had been a significant landmark since the 13th century and originally contained the King’s Mews. After George IV moved the mews to Buckingham Palace, the area was redeveloped by John Nash, but progress was slow after his death, and the square did not open until 1844. The 169-foot (52 m) Nelson’s Column at its centre is guarded by four lion statues. A number of commemorative statues and sculptures occupy the square, but the Fourth Plinth, left empty since 1840, has been host to contemporary art since 1999.
The square has been used for community gatherings and political demonstrations, including Bloody Sunday in 1887, the culmination of the first Aldermaston March, anti-war protests, and campaigns against climate change. A Christmas tree has been donated to the square by Norway since 1947 and is erected for twelve days before and after Christmas Day. The square is a centre of annual celebrations on New Year’s Eve. It was well known for its feral pigeons until their removals in the early 21st century.
The square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar, southwest Spain, although it was not named as such until 1835.
The name “Trafalgar” is a Spanish word of Arabic origin, derived from either Taraf al-Ghar (طرف الغار ‘cape of the cave/laurel’) or Taraf al-Gharb (طرف الغرب ‘cape of the west’).
Building work on the south side of the square in the late 1950s revealed deposits from the last interglacial. Among the findings were the remains of cave lion, rhinoceros, straight-tusked elephant and hippopotamus.
The site of Trafalgar Square has been a significant location since the 13th century. During Edward I’s reign, the area was the site of the King’s Mews, running north from the original Charing Cross, where the Strand from the City met Whitehall coming north from Westminster. From the reign of Richard II to that of Henry VII, the mews was at the western end of the Strand. The name “Royal Mews” comes from the practice of keeping hawks here for moulting; “mew” is an old word for this. After a fire in 1534, the mews were rebuilt as stables, and remained here until George IV moved them to Buckingham Palace.