Greenwich Park is a former hunting park in Greenwich and one of the largest single green spaces in south east London. One of the Royal Parks of London, and the first to be enclosed (in 1433), it covers 74 hectares and is part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site. It commands fine views over the River Thames, Isle of Dogs and the City of London.
Roughly in the centre of the park, on the top of the hill, is the Royal Observatory. To the north is the National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House, and beyond those Greenwich Hospital. To the east is Vanbrugh Castle. To the south is Blackheath and in the south western corner is the Ranger’s House, looking out over heath. To the west lie the architecturally fine streets of Chesterfield Walk and Croom’s Hill. The park also holds a popular children’s playground and an adjacent boating lake. Other attractions include a herb garden, an extensive flower garden complete with large duck pond, a rose garden, a cricket pitch, many 17th-century chestnut trees with gnarled, swirling trunks, tennis courts, a bandstand, Roman remains, an ancient oak tree (Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, associated with Elizabeth I) and an enclosure (The Wilderness) still housing some wild deer.
The estate was originally owned by the Abbey of St. Peter at Ghent, but reverted to the Crown in 1427. Initially the park was probably used for hawking. Henry VIII introduced deer for hunting. James I enclosed the park with a brick wall, much of which still defines the modern boundary. The public was first admitted to the park in the 18th century.
The prime meridian passes through the Airy transit circle (51°28′40.1247″N 0°0′5.3101″W) of the Royal Observatory. It was long marked by a brass strip in the courtyard, now upgraded to stainless steel, and, since December 1999, has been marked by a powerful green laser shining north across the London night sky.
The prime meridian was established by Sir George Airy in 1851. By 1884, over two-thirds of all ships and tonnage used it as the reference meridian on their maps. In October of that year, at the behest of U.S. President Chester A. Arthur, 41 delegates from 25 nations met in Washington, D.C., USA, for the International Meridian Conference. This conference selected the meridian passing through Greenwich as the official prime meridian. However, France abstained from the vote and French maps continued to use the Paris meridian for several decades.
During this year’s Games, the Greenwich Park will be the venue for the equestrian events and for the riding and running parts of the modern pentathlon events. The competitions will take place between 28 July and 9 August, and include team and individual dressage, eventing and jumping. 200 male and female contestants will compete for the six medals.