4 Hours In …

His­tory is still be­ing made in Bos­ton, with new sights and old – mu­se­ums, cob­bled streets and high so­ci­ety on Beacon Hill

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Bos­ton

THE COM­MON

The Com­mon is so called be­cause in the early days of Bos­ton, the par­cel of land was bought by the Colony’s found­ing fa­thers and set aside as a com­mon field for the set­tlers. The com­mem­o­ra­tive plaque that marks the spot reads in part that the grounds were to be used “for a trayn­ing field which ever since and now is used for that pur­pose and for the feed­ing of cat­tell.”

The cat­tell have long since de­parted, mak­ing way for leisurely strolls and out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, but it’s a good place to start your Bos­ton ex­pe­ri­ence, since this is where the brick-lined Free­dom Trail be­gins (the­free­dom­trail.org). How much of the two and a half-mile trail you choose to fol­low will de­pend on your time and in­ter­est, but a turn around the perime­ter of the Com­mon is dot­ted with mon­u­ments and mark­ers, all de­not­ing some note­wor­thy events. On the east edge of the Com­mon is the his­toric Park Street Church and the Old Gra­nary Bury­ing Ground, fi­nal rest­ing place of such lu­mi­nar­ies of Amer­i­can his­tory as John Han­cock, Sa­muel Adams and Cris­pus At­tucks. To the west is the Pub­lic Gar­den, which many out-of-town­ers mis­tak­enly as­sume is part and par­cel of the Bos­ton Com­mon, but is ac­tu­ally a sep­a­rate, more for­mal space, Amer­ica’s very first botan­i­cal gar­den.

THE MAS­SACHUSETTS STATE HOUSE

On the Beacon Street edge of the Com­mon sits the “new” Mas­sachusetts State House. It was opened in 1798 – which puts the idea of “new” in a Bos­ton con­text – re­plac­ing the old State House which still stands at the cor­ner of Wash­ing­ton and State Streets, the old­est pub­lic build­ing in Bos­ton. The Beacon Street ed­i­fice is still home to the Com­mon­wealth’s leg­is­la­ture and gover­nor’s of­fices. The land­mark golden dome was orig­i­nally wood, but that leaked, so in 1802 Paul Re­vere was brought in to sheathe the roof in cop­per; the gold leaf was added later. Tours of the Mas­sachusetts State House are led by vol­un­teers called Doric Do­cents, a ref­er­ence to the ten Doric col­umns that up­hold the main re­cep­tion hall. The tours are con­ducted from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM week­days; ad­mis­sion is free, but you’ll need reser­va­tions. Visit sec. state.ma.us.

BEACON HILL

A stroll west­ward down Beacon Street leads you into one of Bos­ton’s most pres­ti­gious neigh­bor­hoods, Beacon Hill. A who’s who of Bos­ton so­ci­ety has lived here: poet Robert Low­ell lived at No 91 West Cedar Street, and men­tioned it in his best-known work “Life Stud­ies,” while on Wil­low Street, No 9 is the house where Bos­to­nian Sylvia Plath lived in the 1950s. Beacon Hill cen­ters around Louis­burg Square, a small pri­vate square built in the 1830s with a statue at ei­ther end, black iron rail­ings and sur­rounded by man­sions. The lower west side of the square is con­sid­ered the finest row of houses found any­where in the US.

FA­NEUIL HALL

Along the Free­dom Trail not far from the Com­mon is Fa­neuil Hall. It was built as a mar­ket­place and meet­ing hall in 1742 and was the site of key speeches by pa­tri­ots such as Sa­muel Adams, earn­ing it the nick­name, “The Cra­dle of Lib­erty.”

To­day, along with Quincy Mar­ket next door, this clus­ter of re­stored mar­ket build­ings is home to a lively food hall and nu­mer­ous stalls sell­ing sou­venirs. Bos­ton res­i­dents tend to be scarce here, but it’s an ir­re­sistible draw for out-of-town­ers and sub­ur­ban­ites. All very touristy, but it’s a fun spot to wan­der around and you may catch some street per­form­ers.

For some­thing a lit­tle more sober­ing, a few steps away from here on Union Street is the New Eng­land Holo­caust Me­mo­rial. Erected in 1995, it com­prises six glass tow­ers, each named af­ter a con­cen­tra­tion camp. Steam shoots up from the metal walk­way as you walk through – it’s a sear­ing mon­u­ment, and one that doesn’t leave much to the imag­i­na­tion.

MU­SEUM OF FINE ARTS

Bos­ton is an im­mi­nently walk­a­ble city, with most at­trac­tions within a short dis­tance of one an­other. How­ever to save a bit of the day, you may want to cab down Hunt­ing­ton Av­enue – Bos­ton’s “Av­enue of the Arts”– past Co­p­ley Square, where you’ll find the Mu­seum of Fine Arts.

You could fea­si­bly spend your whole day here – there are more than 450,000 works, in­clud­ing an­cient Greek and Egyp­tian mum­mies; Asian pieces dat­ing back to 4,000 B.C., such as Ja­panese prints, Chi­nese ceram­ics and Is­lamic art; African sculp­tures; and paint­ings by Euro­pean masters such as Monet, Rem­brandt and Van Gogh.

If your time is limited, try the colo­nial New Eng­land room in the Lee Gallery, which con­tains aus­tere por­traits of Bos­ton pa­tri­ots ren­dered by the afore­men­tioned John Sin­gle­ton Co­p­ley. The new wing for the Art of the Amer­i­cas collection dou­bles the num­ber of ob­jects from the collection on view, in­clud­ing sev­eral large-scale master­pieces not dis­played for decades. Open daily 10:00 AM – 4:45 PM (un­til 9.45 PM Wed-Fri). En­try $25.Visit mfa.org.

MISABELLA STE­WART GARD­NER MU­SEUM

Sit­u­ated just around the cor­ner from the Mu­seum of Fine Arts on Fen­way, this mu­seum is so ex­tra­or­di­nary, more time here might be worth a re­turn visit all on its own. There isn’t any­thing in the world quite like this tes­ta­ment to one woman’s cre­ativ­ity and good taste. Is­abella Ste­wart was wealthy, first be­cause of her fa­ther, David Ste­wart, and then her hus­band, John Low­ell Gard­ner, and could af­ford to in­dulge her­self. A friend and pa­tron of John Singer Sar­gent and James McNeil Whistler, she col­lected art from over 30 cen­turies, tour­ing Europe to buy paint­ings by Rem­brandt, Raphael, Rubens, Titian and Hol­bein. To dis­play them she bought a ru­ined Vene­tian palazzo and had it shipped back to Bos­ton and re­con­structed. She de­creed that af­ter her death, which oc­curred in 1924, it should be opened as a mu­seum on con­di­tion that noth­ing was changed or sold. It has re­mained that way, though sev­eral works worth $300 mil­lion were stolen in 1990. The spa­ces are as un­miss­able as the art­work. 280 The Fen­way, tel +1 617 566 1401, gard­ner­mu­seum.org. Open 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Thurs­day un­til 9:00 PM). Ad­mis­sion $15. BT

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