Central Park: The Living, Breathing Heart of New York City

Central Park is one of New York City’s most recognizable landmarks. Its iconic status is one it shares with the likes of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. But unlike the rest of NYC’s symbols made of steel, glass, and stone, Central Park is organic. To New Yorkers, especially the Manhattanites, Central Park is the living and beating heart of New York City.

Central Park is a quiet refuge from the city’s noise and bustle

Established in 1873, Central Park was borne out of New York City’s need to provide a quiet and green space for its citizens amidst the noise and chaos brought about by the city’s growth and expansion. Previously, New Yorkers sought the quiet they needed at cemeteries and other such open spaces. After winning a design contest for the proposed park, architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were appointed to lay out and construct the park on the 843 acres of cleared land right in the middle of the island of Manhattan.

Constructing the park is not without its challenges. Space for the park was not allotted for in the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the master plan that governed the development of Manhattan. The land on which the park is to be built is occupied by settlements of free Blacks and Irish immigrants; these settlements needed to be relocated to open up space for the park. And then, there’s the usual political wrangling that impeded the progress of the park’s development.

But thanks to the persistence of Olmstead and Vaux and the other visionaries behind Central Park, the dream of a quiet refuge New Yorkers can escape to from the city’s chaos came to fruition. Today, Central Park is one of the most visited destinations in New York City, attracting millions of visitors from all over the world. It also became the inspiration of many other urban parks in other countries.

Central Park has plenty of attractions for everyone

Central Park bridge | Pixabay

Central park is more than just a vast expanse of landscaped space. It has many features that promote its character as a place to relax and find serenity amidst the disquiet. Among Central Park’s most notable features are:

Bridges and archways

Central Park has 36 bridges, all of which were designed by Calvert Vaux in various styles. None of these bridges look exactly alike, and they fit seamlessly with the park’s landscaping that they give the impression that they are hidden from public view. The one exception is Bow Bridge, a graceful, postcard-perfect bridge in the Classical Greek style that spans the Central Park Lake.

The Mall and Literary Walk

Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park | Pixabay

The Mall is the main pedestrian pathway of Central Park, and the only one built in a straight line. It is lined on both sides by American elms, the boughs of which create a cathedral-like canopy above the pathway. On the southern end of the Mall is the Literary Walk, where you can find statues of famous writers like Shakespeare and Hans Christian Andersen.

Bethesda Terrace

Bethesda Terrace, located at the end of the Mall, is meant to be the centerpiece of Central Park. The two-level terrace overlooks both the Park’s woodlands and the Lake. At its center is the famous Bethesda Fountain with the Angel of the Waters statue.

Central Park Lake

Central Park Lake | Bruce Emmerling/Pixabay

This stunning jewel of Central Park is an artificial body of water. Though manmade, the Lake has become home to various wildlife and birdlife in the park. It’s also a popular place to go birding and boating in NYC, and boats are available for rent at the Loeb Boathouse.

Great Lawn

One of the most famous lawns in the world, this 55-acre field of grass lies at the center of Central Park. The Great Lawn was not part of the original Olmsted-Vaux design; it was formerly the site of the Croton Reservoir, around which Olmsted and Vaux were required to build the Park. When the reservoir became obsolete, it was filled in and became a settlement of squatters known as Hooverville. Today, the Great Lawn is a vast picnic space and a venue for open-air concerts.

Belvedere Castle

Though referred to as a castle, Belvedere is a Victorian folly, a fantasy building that charmingly sits on a high hill. It provides a magnificent, near-360 view of Central Park. The Castle has also gained value as a weather station, observatory, and platform for birders. It is the home of the Henry Luce Nature Observatory.

Onassis Reservoir

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir | Christian Hardi/Pixabay

Named after the late First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Onassis Reservoir is the largest manmade body of water in Central Park. It was originally designed to provide clean water to the residents of NYC. Today, it is a popular spot for joggers and birdwatchers.

Delacorte Theater

The Delacorte Theater is an open-air amphitheater with a seating capacity of 1,800. It is the home of Shakespeare in the Park, a free production of Shakespeare’s plays by the Public Theater arts organization.

Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields is a memorial to the late Beatle John Lennon. The name comes from his song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The memorial features a Portuguese pavement-style mosaic with the word “Imagine” at its center, as well as a number of open lawns and secret pocket gardens.

Central Park Zoo

The first officially established zoo in NYC, the Central Park Zoo features temperate, tropical, and polar exhibit areas. These areas are built around a sea lion pool. The zoo is also famous for the musical clock tower found at its northern entrance.

If ever you find yourself in New York City, make sure you spend time at Central Park. It is a beautiful place to regain your calm and serenity amidst the stress and the noise of our day-to-day lives.

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Anna is a wandering writer. If she isn't wandering, she's working on other blogs. And if she's not doing that, either she's reading or she's busy with a crafting project.