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Back Bay Travel Guide

Back Bay is a district known for its grand boulevards, supposedly an attempt to replicate those of Paris. Beautiful houses built of Victorian brownstone line the avenues, row by row. Since the late 19th century, Back Bay has been one of the most coveted neighborhoods in Boston, home to the who’s whos.[1] Originally, Back Bay was a district of gravel pits and smelly tidal flats. For four decades in the late 19th century, a railway ran from Needham to Back Bay continuously filling in the pits with gravel and in the process converting some 450 acres into usable land. Today, Back Bay is a high-end residential neighborhood lined with beautiful elm trees overlooking broad avenues. Victorian mansions with their ornate wrought iron railings are seen everywhere. Lewis Mumford considers Back Bay “the outstanding achievement in America urban planning for the 19th century. [2]

Copley Square
Copley Square boasts some of the most impressive 19th and 20th century architecture in Boston. It is also the core center of the Back Bay community.[3]

Trinity Church
The Trinity Church is a gorgeous 19th century Romanesque creation by Henry Hobson Richardson. Today, it is considered one of the most magnificent church architectures in the United States. Richardson got his inspiration from the great cathedrals of Spain and France, employing the same massive scale and intricacy with friezes, wall murals, and carvings.[4]

Boston Public Library
The Boston Public Library is the world’s oldest free library, boasting a collection of more than six million books. It stands across from Dartmouth Street and serves as a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of Boston. Visitors enter through an elegant courtyard with a fountain centerpiece. The entry is graced spectacularly with a marble Sienna staircase and built in the mold of a Greek temple. Bronzes, murals, and world renowned paintings decorate the library on the inside.[5]

John Hancock Tower
The John Hancock Tower is a beaming, glass-covered skyscraper that towers 60 stories high. Designed by the famous I.M. Pei, it is New England’s tallest building. The building is more or less a giant mirror, reflecting the cityscape of Back Bay with its walls of glass. In its earlier years, the building’s glass sheets would fall off, but this problem has since been remedied.[6]

The tower’s 60th floor has an observatory with sweeping views of the city. The elevators run at high speeds, lifting visitors to a height of 740 feet (226 meters) above the streets below in a mere 30 seconds. From atop, visitors are treated to a panorama that includes Cambridge, the North and South shores, the town houses of Beacon Hill, the gold-domed State House, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.[7]

Copley Place
Copley Place is a $500 million shopping and eating centre located along Stuart Street.[8]

Christian Science Center
The Christian Science Center is a 22-acre office complex where the national daily newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, is headquartered. Located along Huntington Avenue, the Christian Science Center features a late 19th century Mother Church with a bell tower shaped like a square.[9]

Prudential Center
The Prudential Center is a skyscraper that serves as the headquarters for corporate insurance companies. Its observation tower on the 50th floor, known as the Skywalk, provides a 360-degree view of Boston and can be enjoyed with the accompaniment of historical commentary. The best time to visit the tower is at sunset.[10]

Fenway Park
Fenway Park is Boston’s famous baseball stadium and is a bit of a living museum of sorts. Located near Brookline Avenue, it is home to Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox. Fenway is the oldest and most intimate of stadiums in baseball and brings fans up close to where the action is. Fans in the front rows are close enough that they can touch the players.[11]

Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is the city’s most famous museum. Located at 465 Huntington Avenue, it received its original artifacts from Boston’s wealthy Brahmins, who traveled around the world in the 19th century gathering a varied collection of objects. Today, the museum is considered one of the world’s greatest. The building was constructed in 1909 and sports a Greek temple-style. Inside, there are over 200 galleries, including an Oriental collection that is considered the nation’s most remarkable. The collection includes Buddhist sculptures and paintings that date back to the 12th century, Japanese artifacts and ceramics, and Chinese objects from the 3rd century Han dynasty.[12]

There is also a collection of Egyptian artifacts, gathered primarily through a 40-year Middle East expedition financed by the Museum and led by Harvard University. It boasts the finest Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo with objects over 4,000 years old.[13]

The European section features a sizeable collection of Monet paintings as well as American works such as Gilbert Stuart’s depiction of George and Martha Washington. The museum’s glass-roofed wing also boasts fine 20th century art.[14]

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, housed in a Venetian-style palazzo, is within walking distance of the Museum of Fine Arts. The focus of the museum is the personal collections of Isabella Gardner, an eccentric millionairess from the 19th century. The woman hired agents from around the world to search for fine art. All told, she purchased six million dollars worth of art that included several Matisse pieces as well as Whistler and Titian’s Rape of Europa, which was commissioned by King Phillip II of Spain.

Other notable treasures include beautiful sculptures and centuries-old tapestries and mosaics. The courtyard with its Venetian-style balconies and windows is the site of trees, plants, and flowers and boasts a Livia Roman floor mosaic dating back to the 2nd century.[15]

Bond, Richard. The Insider’s Guide to New England. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc., 1992. ISBN: 1556504551.

Chase, Suzi Forbes, and Ann Lee. New England. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671878999.

[1] Bond, 37
[2] Chase, 142
[3] Bond, 37
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id. at 37, 39
[8] Id. at 39
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id. at 43
[12] Id. at 40
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Id.

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