Ellis Island and Lady Liberty are reached by ferry from Battery Park: this strip of green fringing the Hudson River was named after the line of cannons once set here to protect the city. You can still visit Castle Clinton. When it was built in 1807 it stood about 109 yards offshore but years of landfill have since connected it to the Financial District, known as Wall Street. The wall in question was by the Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam to mark the boundary between Indian territory and their own. Wall Street may now by synonymous with high finance but it is also custodian of some of New York’s oldest memories, starting with Trinity Church, made particularly prominent by its tall Gothic bell tower. The present structure is the third church to stand on this site (the firs was erected in 1697, making in one of the oldest Anglican churches in America); until 1860 it towered over the buildings all around.
Federal Hall National Monument offers another historic testimony since this is the site, where, in 1789, George Washington took his oath of office as first president of the United States. Although dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, this neoclassical building is an imposing and fitting tribute, with a large statue of the president leading the way into an exhibition on the Constitution. Of no less significance are the Federal Reserve Bank, the U.S. government bank where there are vast strong-rooms crammed with gold, and the New Stock Exchange, hub of global finance. We may have seen the NYSE in countless films but it is unlikely that anyone ignorant of the niceties of financial markets really understands its workings, Officially established in 1972 by a small group of brokers, it has been the scene of great stock market crashes (the most famous of all in 1929) and miraculous recoveries, respectively breaking or making investors in the space of hours. Now that computers appear to run the show, the frenzied activity on the trading floor seems to have lost some of its appeal. But the public can still watch the proceedings from the visitors’ gallery as brokers and pages dash to and fro in the hope of making their clients’ fortunes.