Though it’s these days associated with a Brutalist housing estate and performing arts centre based in the north of the City of London, the name Barbican has been associated with the area on which the estate stands for centuries.

BarbicanThe word barbican (from the Latin barbecana) refers to an outer fortification designed to protect the entrance to a city or castle. In this case it apparently referred to watchtower which may have had its origins in Roman or Saxon times (or maybe both). The City of London website suggests it was located “somewhere between the northern side of the Church of St Giles Cripplegate and the YMCA hostel on Fann Street”.

When-ever it was built, the watchtower was apparently demolished on the orders of King Henry III in 1267, possibly as a response to Londoners who had supported England’s barons when they had rebelled against him. One source suggests the tower was rebuilt during the reign of King Edward III but, if so, the date of its subsequent demolition remains unknown.

Later residents of the area – which become known as a place to trade new and used clothes – included John Milton and William Shakespeare.

The area known as Barbican was devastated by bombing raids in World War II. Discussions on the future of the site started in 1952 and for more than 10 years plans for redeveloping the area were debated until finally, in the early 1960s, work began on what is now the Barbican Estate including three tall residential towers (part of the residential estate is pictured above). Completed in the mid 1970s, the Brutalist design of the complex, which features buildings named after historical figures associated with the area, means it meets with strong reactions from those who encounter it whether love – or hate.

Construction of the arts centre – known as the Barbican Centre – the largest performing arts centre in Europe and home to the London Symphony Orchestra – was started in the early 1970s. The £156 million centre was eventually opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.

Other buildings within the Grade II listed complex include the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA.

• The City of London today kicks off Celebrate the City – four days of mostly free music, art and cultural events.The events include musical performances in many of the City’s churches, walks and talks at various locations around the Square Mile, new exhibitions including Butcher, Baker, Candlestock Maker – 850 years of Livery Company Treasures at the Guildhall Art Gallery, Livery Hall and historic building openings, family entertainment at the Cheapside Street Fayre at Saturday (including free ice-cream and tuk-tuk rides for children) and activities at the Barbican Centre and the Museum of London. The celebrations start in Guildhall Yard (pictured) at 6pm tonight when musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama perform Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with firing cannons. Among the many other highlights will be the chance to play golden street pianos, to join in the Midsummer street part at the climax of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, to enjoy a sunset from the Tower Bridge walkways and to see the transformation of St Helen’s Square into a sculpture space. The weekend will also host the Open House Junior Festival, London’s first ever child-friendly City architecture festival. To see detailed listings of what’s on, head to www.visitthecity.co.uk/index.php/celebrate/.

• The Museum of London will next week launch its annual community and training dig at Syon Park in Hounslow. The dig, which will be open to school and community groups, will run from 25th June to 7th July and will focus on the area of Sir Richard Wynne’s house. A Parliamentarian, in 1659 he was implicated in a Royalist insurrection and was imprisoned. The house, which featured in the Battle of Brentford when Royalist troops advanced on Parliamentary forces in London in 1641, was later purchased by the Duke of Northumberland and demolished to extend Syon’s parkland. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• We couldn’t resist mentioning this one: Westminster City Council has released a top 10 list of the strangest objects people have dumped on London’s streets. They include an inflatable Margaret Thatcher and other inflatable dolls, wedding dresses, stuffed animals and a range of film props. The council say that, on average, enough litter is picked up off Westminster’s streets every two days to fill the entire 864 cubic metres of Marble Arch. They add that if just half of the annual waste collected off the street is recycled properly in the correct bins it would save them nearly £1million.

• On Now: Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. The major summer exhibition at the British Library, it explores how the last 1,000 years of English literature have been shaped by the country’s places. The exhibition  features more than 150 works with highlights including John Lennon’s original lyrics for The Beatles’ song In My Life, JK Rowling’s handwritten draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JRR Tolkein’s original artwork for The Hobbit and original manuscripts from the likes of Jane Austen, William Blake, Charlotte Bronte, Arthur Conan Doyle, JG Ballard and Charles Dickens. As part of the exhibition, the Library is inviting people to “Pin-a-Tale” on an interactive map of Britain, that is, take a literary work and pin it on the map along with a description of how the work links with that particular location – head to www.bl.uk/pin-a-tale to take part. The exhibition runs until 25th September. Admission fee applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

• The Museum of London is calling on Londoners to submit images showing “Roman influences in London today” as part of its forthcoming Our Londinium 2012 exhibition, a revamping of the museum’s Roman gallery. In what is the largest update made to the museum’s Roman gallery since it opened in 1994, the  reworked gallery looks at parallels between Roman London and the city today and features important Roman artifacts such as a bust of the Emperor Hadrian found on the Thames foreshore (part of the British Museum’s collection, this will be displayed for six months before being replaced by a replica) alongside modern objects such as the V for Vendetta masks worn by protestors in the Occupy movement. The exhibition is being co-curated by young people from Junction, the Museum of London’s youth panel, and they’re calling on people to submit their images showing how the city’s Roman past still resonates even today (see example pictured). For details on how to submit images via email of Flickr, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/ol2012map.

Secrets will be revealed, we’re promised, as part of the City of London’s Celebrate the City: four days in the Square Mile event to be held from 21st to 24th June. Events held in the City our the four days, many of which will be free, include a musical extravaganza to launch the event in Guildhall Yard as well as exhibitions, walks and talks, a chance to explore buildings like Livery Company Halls, the Bank of England and the Mansion House, family entertainment at the Cheapside Fayre and music and activities at sites across the Square Mile including the Barbican Centre, Museum of London and churches. We’ll have more to come on this. For now, head to www.visitthecity.co.uk/culture2012 for more information.

• Architectural historian and former director of the Sir John Soane Museum, Sir John Summerson, has been honored with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home  London’s north-west. Sir John (1904-1992) lived at the property at 1 Eton Villas in Chalk Farm for more than 40 years. He was the director of the Sir John Soane Museum from 1945 to 1984. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

• Architecture students are being invited to submit designs for a new stone seating area on the City thoroughfare of Cheapside. The winning student will work with trainee masons from the Cathedral Works Organisation and The Mason’s Company with the new seating area unveiled in October. For an application pack and full brief, see For an application pack and full brief, please contact Melanie Charalambous, Department of the Built Environment, City of London Corporation, PO Box 270, Guildhall, London, EC2P 2EJ or call 020 7332 3155 or email stonebench@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

• Now On: Journeys and kinship. This display at the Museum of London Docklands showcases the creative output of a community collaboration project which involved a group of young Londoners working with visual artist Jean Joseph, Caribbean Calypso musician Alexander D Great and Yvonne Wilson from training organisation Equi-Vision. The centrepiece of the exhibition – which explores themes highlighted in the museum’s permanent gallery, London, Sugar and Slavery, on the city’s involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade  – is an artwork by Joseph entitled Sales Over Centuries, 2010, which features plaster face casts of 42 people from the African diaspora who were born in or currently live in London. In response to it, the young Londoners have created their own works including face casts, music, film and photography. Runs until 4th November. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.

Queen Elizabeth II this week unveiled the final plaque marking the end of the 37 mile/60 kilometre Jubilee Greenway in front of Buckingham Palace. The circular Greenway – marked by 542 glass plaques – has been created to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It can be walked or cycled and takes in key sites around London, including Kensington Palace, Regent’s Park, the Thames Barrier and Olympic sites including Greenwich Park (equestrian events), the O2 Arena (hosting gymnastics, trampoline and basketball events) as well as the main stadium at Olympic Park. The Greenway is divided into 10 sections and you can download either the entire walk or brochures for one of the sections only here.

This weekend sees the Barbican Centre play host to the event known as ‘Barbican Weekender’ – two days of free art, dance, music, theatre and film at the Barbican Foyers. Part of London 2012 Festival, the event’s ‘Freestage’ programme features Roxxxan,Dizralie and the Small Gods, young drummers from East London and performance poetry by the Barbican Young Poets. There’s also street dance classes with Boy Blue Entertainment, the chance to make an Opera in a Day with the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, a Digital Graffiti wall, street food stalls, the Wah Nails Pop-Up boutique and free running by Streets United. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/weekender.

• On Now – Measuring the Universefrom the Transit of Venus to the edge of the cosmos. Marking the 2012 transit of Venus, this exhibition at the Greenwich Observatory follows the story of man’s ongoing quest to understand the vastness of space, looking at the people and technologies involved in seeing farther than ever before – from the Astronomer Royal, Edmond Halley, to Captain James Cook and Edwin Hubble and through to the possibilities offered by the Cosmic Microwave Background Explorer. It’s accompanied by a series of talks, observing events – including this month’s Daytime Sky Watch sessions – and a planetarium show. Runs until 2nd September. Admission is free. For more information, see www.rmg.co.uk.