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The main concert halls are the Royal Festival Hall and, in the same complex, the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room; the huge, elliptical Royal Albert Hall; and Wigmore Hall. Opera and ballet are enjoyed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Sadler's Wells, and the London Coliseum.
London is noted for its plenty of park spaces. The most notable are the Royal Parks, which were formerly royal estates. These include Saint James's Park and, to the west, Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens. To the north is Regent's Park, and farther upstream along the Thames are Richmond Park, Hampton Court Park, Kew Gardens (also known as the Royal Botanical Gardens), and Bushey Park. Surrounding the Royal Naval College and the old Royal Observatory is Greenwich Park. Other important open spaces include Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields, which overlooks London from the north.
Higher education in London is dominated by the University of London and its numerous subordinate members. Other institutions include the Royal College of Art (1837), the Royal Academy of Music (1822), and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich (1873). London is also a centre for technical schools, including the polytechnics of Central London, North London, South Bank, the City of London, North East London, and Thames.
At the time of the Roman occupation of Britain in the 1st century AD, London was already a town of great importance, although not an administrative centre. In the 9th century King Alfred made London the capital of his kingdom. After William the Conqueror established himself in England, he began construction of the Tower of London, intending it as a citadel to control the masses. Many Normans settled in London and built imposing edifices. The wooden London Bridge was torn down in 1176 and rebuilt with stone. The new structure, completed in 1209, with 20 arches and a drawbridge, was in service until early in the 19th century, when it was replaced by a new bridge. The old bridge was moved to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in 1971.
Throughout the Middle Ages the development of London was slow and was repeatedly arrested by wars, epidemics, and commercial crises. The opening by Queen Elizabeth I of the Royal Exchange in 1566 marked the growth of the city in world importance. The queen, however, feared that if the city expanded it might become too powerful, constituting a threat to her royal authority; she therefore issued (1580) a proclamation prohibiting the construction of any new building within a radius of 4.8 km (3 miles) outside the city gates.