Bethesda Terrace

One of the most iconic and well-known features in Central Park is Bethesda Terrace, a large plaza consisting of two levels as well as an Arcade and a Fountain.

Located in the heart of the Park, Bethesda Terrace is found at the north end of the long, tree-lined promenade known as the Mall and overlooks the Ramble and the Lake. The Terrace is a popular destination for relaxing, people-watching, and admiring the architecture and the scenery. At the center of the Terrace stands Bethesda Fountain, also known as Angel of the Waters, one of the Park’s most beloved works of art.

Bethesda Terrace was intended as a gathering space for Park visitors. It was also conceived of as the Park’s most prominent display of art and architecture and one of its few formal landscapes, providing a contrast to the more naturalistic design of the rest of the Park. It was designed by architect and Park co-designer Calvert Vaux with his assistant, Jacob Wrey Mould, who was responsible for the intricate carvings on the Terrace’s architectural features, including its ramps, balustrades, and piers.

Vaux’s approach to the buildings in the Park was to design them as subordinate to the design of the landscapes, declaring "Nature first, second, and third—architecture after a while.” But the Terrace was the Park’s showpiece. Still, nature, and the purpose of the Park as a place of escape from the busy and crowded City, was integrated into the design of the Terrace, revealed at each level through intricate carvings. On the Terrace’s upper level, piers have scenes representing night and day. The grand staircases leading to the lower level, as well as additional piers, are adorned with carvings that depict the four seasons with detailed renderings of fruit, flowers, plants, and birds. The original plan for the Terrace included bronze figures related to these motifs, but these were never realized.

These staircases flank the structure known as the Arcade, which functions in many ways similarly to the bridges and arches that are part of the Park’s circulation system. Another set of stairs at the end of the Mall allows visitors to descend under the Drive, and avoid its traffic, to reach the lower level of the Terrace. As with all other parts of the Terrace, this interior space is heavily ornamented. Its most notable feature is the ceiling composed of nearly 16,000 tiles, which come together to form 49 panels creating an elaborate geometric pattern. It is the only ceiling in the world featuring encaustic or inlaid tiles, which were more typically used as flooring. They were manufactured by the Minton tile company in Stoke-on-Trent in England.

Over the decades, various factors, including the extraordinary weight of the ceiling, led to its deterioration. In 1983, the Central Park Conservancy removed the tiles and safely stored them until it raised the $7 million required to complete their restoration. Beginning in 2002, the Conservancy worked to clean, repair, and repaint the tiles, and in some cases replaced heavily damaged tiles with new ones manufactured by the Minton tile company. The project also involved new waterproofing, steel supports, and lighting. The work was completed in 2007.

The design of the Terrace always included plans for a fountain and early plans by Vaux suggested that it reflect the theme of love. Bethesda Fountain is located at the center of the Terrace, overlooking the shore of the Lake. The Fountain consists of a large circular pool, filled with aquatic plants in the summer, in which stands a two-tiered basin that functions as a pedestal for the bronze statue the Angel of the Waters.

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