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Explore Boston's Back Bay Art and Architecture Walk

Explore Boston's Architecture

Old State House and the skyscrapers of the Financial District at twilight in Boston, Massa

Once upon a time, Boston’s Back Bay consisted of salt water and the creatures that lived therein. But in the 1800s, the Back Bay became the pet project of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Old Colony State came to the rescue of this forlorn piece of wet real estate, filling it in and making it a habitable and eventually, culturally chic neighborhood, known as the Back Bay. 

A Brief History of the Back Bay and the Tour

The project took a quarter of a century, but the results were nothing short of phenomenal. The Back Bay went from murky water wasteland to a thriving arts district, and thus, some centuries later, the Back Bay Art and Architecture Walk was born.

Along the way, some key locations came into prominence, either as examples of excellence in architecture or as mighty halls of art (or both). The Back Bay Art and Architecture Walk highlights these locations, drawing attention to the beauty and majesty that arose from the Back Bay Project. 

The formal tour lasts about an hour and a half, although you can visit any of the individual sites on the walk, separately from the tour. Here’s a look at what you’ll find when you embark on this journey of beauty and history.

What Will I See on the Back Bay Art and Architecture Walk?

Copley Square

Aptly named after the Colonial portrait artist and history painter, John Singleton Copley, Copley Square gives this arts district its distinct center and plays home to many of the notable sites on the Back Bay Art and Architecture Walk. In fact, there’s so much art happening here, that Copley Square earned the nickname “Art Square.”

Copley Square mixes both old and new architecture in a way that both preserves the area’s historical roots, while also bringing the square solidly into the modern era. During the warmer months, Bostonians and visitors alike gather in the square to take advantage of the fresh wares at the Copley Square Farmers Market. 

A fountain pool figures prominently into the landscape and, by virtue of a little magic and a bit of technology, is, on occasion, converted into an outdoor stage. Park visitors are treated to live theater and concerts at the fountain/ stage. They sit under a canopy of mature trees and against a backdrop of impressive and exquisite architecture as they enjoy some of the loveliest cultural offerings the city has to offer. 

Copley Square counts among the major gathering places in the City on a Hill. 

The Prudential Center

Known by the locals as the Pru, the Prudential Center offers visitors an enclosed walking space, filled with shops, eateries (centered in the Pru’s Eataly), and architectural wonders galore. 

During the winter months, kids can visit Santa, while parents take a breather from shopping at stores, like Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Earl’s. In Eataly, the once-food-court-turned-gourmet -wonderland, carolers sing Christmas songs, while shoppers drink cocoa. 

Throughout the year, featured artists put on exhibits, allowing Pru walkers to combine their shopping and lunch stops with sights of beauty and culture. 

The Pru is open:

Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Commonwealth Ave

Commonwealth Avenue, or Comm Ave, is Back Bay’s main throughway, but this tree-lined avenue is so much more than a road to take to get from one place to another in Boston. 

Exquisite brownstone mansions line the streets of Comm Ave. Its lush, green mall offers art and architecture walkers glimpses of some of the most stunning examples of public sculpture anywhere. 

A walk through Comm Ave’s mall, designed by architect Arthur Gilman, also brings you face-to-face with some of history’s most important figures: Leif Erickson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone (and many more) are all honored with life-sized statues here.

Your walking feet can find a bit of rest as you sit on one of the carved stone benches that dot the park’s walkways. Comm Ave also connects you to some of Boston’s most important sites, like the chain of parks along Boston’s Emerald Necklace. 

Trinity Church and the John Hancock Tower

As Back Bay neighbors, the Trinity Church and the Hancock Tower represent the sharply contrasting architectural styles that make up the Back Bay neighborhood. 

Trinity Church, built from 1872 to 1877, was the brainchild of one of America’s first superstar architects, Henry Hobson Richardson, who brought his version of the medieval Romanesque style to Boston. This style of architecture later became known as Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. The church’s towers, stone facade, and rounded arches are considered masterpieces of American architecture and great examples of Richardson’s work.

Standing in juxtaposition to the centuries-old architecture of the Trinity Church is the John Hancock Tower, built in 1976. This 60-story skyscraper ranks as Boston’s tallest building and offers a literal mirrored view of the Trinity Church in its glass facade. 

Standing almost 800 feet high, the tower was designed by I. M. Pei & Partners. It’s both Boston’s and New England’s tallest building.

The Boston Public Garden Architecture

Known for its pond and the swan boats that float in its serene waters, the Boston Public Garden offers tour visitors more than just a walk through stunningly beautiful gardens, though that’s certainly a big draw. It also offers them a chance to tour the country’s first public botanical garden. 

Its Victorian-era influences can be seen in the architecture that surrounds the garden, as well as in the garden’s features. Its design is the culmination of the work of its gardener, John Cadness, its architect, George F. Meacham, and the city engineer, James Slade.  

A cast-iron fence visually separates the garden from the surrounding streets. A walk through this wonder offers tour visitors sights of groomed flower beds, an impressive statue of George Washington atop a noble steed, numerous sculptures, including its famous Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, and a suspension bridge that spans the park’s six-acre pond.  

The Public Garden is wonderfully preserved and serves as an oasis for weary workers and art walk participants alike. 

Final Thoughts on the Back Bay Art and Architecture Walk

The Back Bay Art and Architecture walks gives art and culture buffs a chance to take a leisurely, yet beautiful stroll through one of Boston’s most beautiful and culturally-rich neighborhoods. It features a mix of public art, ground-breaking architecture, and a look into the history of one of Boston’s most interesting neighborhoods. 

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