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A visit to The National September 11 Memorial

Or the 9/11 Memorial, as it is better known, is a must visit if you are ever in NYC.

The last time Mr. L and I visited NYC was in 2006 during the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and back then in the early days when it was known as Ground Zero, the streets overlooking the emptied World Trade Centre site were busy with people all paying their respects to those who were killed - families, friends and colleagues of the victims, NYC residents, tourists.  There was a sombre, heavy atmosphere, the smell of sweet perfume in the air and the sound of silence.  It was very difficult to get a sense of the size and perspective of the pallid, desolate site, it was cordoned off with a wall of domineering iron railings and void of permanent structures marking out or defining the space.

On this visit, we were naturally curious to see how the authorities had turned around this 16 acre site in honour of the victims and in particular, see the much-talked-about comemorative Memorial Pools in the foundations of the north and south towers.

For the time being, until all the World Trade Centre construction projects are finished, the Memorial site has a totally unexpected stringent wall of security, with an airport style screening process and 4 security passes, before you can get into it.  Once inside though, we were met with a captivating vista and the powerful sound of rushing water. This place now has a calm and positive atmosphere yet it is still incredibly moving. 

I took so many photographs, it has been difficult to edit them down!

The South Pool Memorial and the names of the victims cut out of the bronze panels.

Designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, the design was selected through an international competition that received 5201 submissions from 63 countries.


The calm water cascades thirty feet into the pools, before dropping into the centre void.  It's especially moving and poignant that you cannot see the bottom of the centre part of the pool, the water just disappears, with seemingly no final end point.  An effect that's mirrored in the cut outs of the victim's names along the parapets.  The design is so simple, delicate and clever yet so solid and powerful.

The sun reflected off the waterfall and created some lovely shards of light and rainbows. 

The glass building at the back of shot is the soon to be completed Memorial museum, it will be the focal point for exhibits, history and events of 9/11 and is due to be open at the end of this year.

The names etched into the parapets are not just those victims of the World Trade Centre collapse.  They also include the victims from Flight 11, Flight 93, Flight 77, Pentagon, and Flight 175.  The Memorial also honours those who were killed on February 26th 1993, when Islamic terrorists detonated a bomb underneath the World Trade Centre, killing 6 people and injuring thousands.  There are 2983 names in total across both north and south pools.

The arrangement of the names around each pool are inextricably intertwined.  They reflect where the victims were on 9/11 and the relationships they shared with others that were lost on that day, honouring requests from victims' families for specific names to be next to one another.

North Pool

The area is still very much a work in progress with new commercial offices, retail space and a new public transport hub in construction.  This building, overlooking the North Pool will be '1 World Trade Centre' and when complete will be the tallest building in the USA at 1776 feet.

It's incredible to think that these wonderful pools, now seemingly so small in surface area, were the foundations for buildings that had 110 floors, 10 million square feet of office space for 35,000 people and were completely obliterated into dust and charred twisted metal.

The oldest victim of the attacks was 85 years old, the youngest 2 years old. More than 400 of the victims were first responders who died performing their regular duties.

I would imagine this place to be really stunning when lit up at night.  Tomorrow, on the anniversary, there will be a Tribute of Light illuminating the sky above the Memorial site.

image credit

It's a ticket only entry to the Memorial, with timed passes to ensure safety and to regulate the number of people viewing the site.  But there is also a dedicated Memorial website for more information, to make a donation and to book tickets -


Memorial Mission Statement

Remember and honour the thousands of innocent men, women and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26 1993 and September 11 2001.

Respect this place made sacred through tragic loss.

Recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours.

May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.

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Reader Comments (9)

So incredibly moving. Your photos are really quite beautiful and capture the mood and serenity of the monument perfectly. As we talked about over lunch (:) still so happy I get to say that!), I haven't been to the official memorial site since 2002, when it was just a giant hole in the ground and there were still construction crews everywhere. They've really done a great job at honoring those lost. Those pools are a really thoughtful touch, that you can't see the water at the bottom. Almost gives you chills.

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

What a beautiful post, Sam. We haven't been to the site either, but we need to go. Soon. I can't believe the anniversary is tomorrow. Callum had just turned two. We lived all the way across the country in San Diego, and it was hard to believe that those horrors wouldn't stretch all the way to us. Your photos did a wonderful job of capturing the sombre beauty. xo

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

This is such a beautiful memorial but I can't help feeling sad about the loss of so many innocent and totally unsuspecting people and the futility of it all.

I cannot imagine what the families of the victims must be going through.

Great post and gorgeously photographed. :) x

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChi @ 106

I still get sad every year. I remember on the 1st anniversary I was in Covent Garden and was looking for somewhere to go and pay my respects. I couldn't believe that no one on the streets seemed to care.

I suppose it had a huge impact on me as I was on a plane coming back from a holiday in Spain when the tragedy happened. 10 days in a Villa where that we hardly left. When we arrived to Gatwick, everyone was on mobile phones and I felt sick in my stomach without knowing why. I never got to see any images till I got home at midnight (as they wouldn't let us leave the airport for most of the day). All this made it worse for me and for the next 3 months I was glued to the TV for more news....

Beautiful photographs Sam and a very moving post!

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertina

Such a beautiful post, Sam. I haven't seen the new memorial as it stands today, so I really appreciate all your beautiful photographs and the extra information you provided. Every year on the anniversary, I close my eyes and I'm right back in New York with that tragic day unfolding in my mind. So many lives lost and families devastated by this senseless act. The last sentence of the mission statement is beautifully written. Tomorrow will be a tough day for many. I hope they are able to find some peace to carry them through.

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheresa

@Erin - thank you dear. You must go visit soon x

@Lauren - thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed my photos, I'm honoured! I think we all remember where we were and what we were doing at that moment, it's impossible not to x

@Chi - thank you. The victims must have been terrified, it's too much to comprehend, and those poor families x

@Tina - thank you and thanks for stopping by :-) There was a terrible panic across the globe wasn't there? My parents were in NYC at the time and we didn't hear from them for a day because the lines of communication were down. Their trip was extended by a few days as they couldn't get their flight home. It was a scary time x

@Theresa - thank you, glad you like the photos. The mission statement says it all x

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSam Lennie

Wow Sam what a great post, really moving.
I had absolutely no idea all of that was there, I'd really like to visit it now, that waterfall is beautiful and really poignant.
Your photos are stunning! New camera....?

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterannie

You've captured the spirit of the memorial perfectly sam, in both your photos and your words.

When I visited in August I was moved by the beauty and simplicity of the monument, perfect to remember the people who lost their lives in such a senseless act of violence.

Did you see the survivour tree? I sat a looked at that for ages, amazing that a tree could be burned to a stump and burried in rubble to go on to grow again.

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

this is such a moving post. your photos capture a reverance and beauty.

September 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleah of sang the bird

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