London is one of the most important financial centres of the world. The headquarters of some of the world's largest banks and insurance companies are located here. It has one of the largest stock markets for the likes of commodities and metals. The city is also an important political and cultural centre as well as Europe's main air hub. This makes London a major global and cultural city.
Historical Development London is some 2000 years old and was a major city (Londinium) even at the time of the Roman Empire. For many years, London has been the capital of the "kingdom of England" or the United Kingdom, and has long been the centre of the British colonial empire. However, hardly any medieval or older buildings survived the great fire of 1666. The four maps of figure 1 show the significant areal extent of the British capital during the past 300 years. It was originally a small city, which had 575,000 inhabitants by 1700 and an expansion beyond the ring/wall was built over the following centuries, expanding London to become a world city with 8.5 million inhabitants (by 2008). The cultivation of a green belt with a width of 7-25Km circles London. The numerous communities of different ages and backgrounds beyond this green belt, can commute to central London by a radial system of regional roads and railway networks. The railway networks terminate at several main railway stations in London and the motorways lead to the ring road, which surrounds the city about 17km away. The majority of the UK's flight traffic is handled by the five London airports. London Heathrow Airport is situated to the west, Gatwick Airport to the south, London Stansted Airport to the northeast (with its increasing passenger volumes). Luton Airport is to the north and the Docklands and City Airport is to the east of the city. Technical, urban and economic grounds in recent decades have led to the simultaneous development of ports such as the modern container port of Tilbury, and the oil terminals at the Coryton refinery sites and Shell Haven by the Port of London Authority. These new ports are founddownstream of the Thames. Along the older star-shape tapered central streets, the younger consumer goods industries are located on the arterial roads, while the existing basic and intermediate goods industries can be found more downstream. The industrial sites in the southern Lea Valley, northeast of London have been in disarray for years. Lea Valley is to be used as part of the Olympic Parks for the 2012 Olympic Games and is a major revitalisation project. A: M. Felsch, H. H. Hild, E. Astor; Ü: Colette Fleming