London tourists can walk on site of king's coronation - but in socks
Abbey Marshal Howard Berry stands at the centre of the Cosmati pavement, located before the altar at Westminster Abbey, central London, to announce special events to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/dpa

Visitors to London's Westminster Abbey are to be allowed to stand – in socks – for the first time in the exact spot where the Charles will be crowned king.

Special guided “barefoot” tours in celebration of the May 6 coronation will include access to the Cosmati pavement, one of Britain’s greatest medieval art treasures, which is usually roped off to the public.

The intricate 13th century mosaic floor – at the heart of the Abbey’s coronation theatre – has been the site of the crowning of kings and queens for more than 700 years.

It was covered over with carpet at many previous coronations including Queen Elizabeth II’s in 1953 and George VI’s in 1937, but for Charles, it will remain uncovered, the Abbey said.

Rich in symbolism, it is said to depict the universe, with a spherical globe at its centre, and even foretells the end of the world.

Tourists – kept to small groups of 10 – will be asked to remove their shoes and walk in socks to help protect the pavement, made of geometric pattens of marble, stone, glass and metal, in the Sacrarium.

The guided Crown and Church visits will begin on May 15, a week after the coronation.

Charles will be crowned sitting in the Coronation Chair which will rest on a low stepped dais above the centre circle of the ancient floor in front of the High Altar.

The tour by Abbey experts will reveal the London abbey’s royal links, tell stories from coronations, visit the chair, and allow access to the pavement and explain its history and significance.

“It will be the first time in living memory that the Abbey has invited visitors to walk on the Cosmati pavement where the Coronation Chair will be placed for the crowning of HM The King on Saturday 6 May,” a spokesperson for the abbey said.

The 24ft 10in square pavement was commissioned by Henry III and completed in 1268 as a glittering adornment to his Abbey.

A cryptic inscription even predicts the end of the world, claiming it would last 19,683 years, with a riddle adding together the life spans of different animals including dogs, horses, men, stags, ravens, eagles and whales.

It is considered the best surviving example outside Italy of a rare type of mosaic stonework known as Cosmati after the Italian family who perfected the technique.

The pavement was hidden under carpet and away from public view for 150 years from the 1870s until it was unveiled after a two-year programme of conservation work in 2010.

Britain's late queen was depicted standing on the spot where she was crowned in Australian-born artist Ralph Heimans’ portrait for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Other elements of the special programme include a new exhibition in the Chapter House. It will explain and illustrate the key elements of the coronation service and its artefacts.

The display opens on April 12 and is included in entry to the Abbey. The Crown and Church tours will run until July 29 and cost £15, plus Abbey entry.

Rich in symbolism, Westminster Abbey's Cosmati pavement where Charles is to be crowned king, is said to depict the universe, with a spherical globe at its centre, and even foretells the end of the world. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/dpa