The other day we visited the infamous Tower of London. The tower sits just off the side of the River Thames. It is one of the top tourist sites of London, yet the line for tickets was quick, just as the line to get in. I have not waited more than 5 minutes for any of these famous sites so far. I guess the Brits are doing it right!
The tower fulfilled all medieval European architectural stereotypes. It had the narrow, spiral staircases, the chambers, the small triangular windows, it had its fortress, the different stones fitted in the wall, and a perfectly manicured lawn. It was something out of a movie. It even had a view of the water!
The Tower of London’s original building (still intact today) was built around 1070 A.D. and throughout time it has expanded. Throughout time it has served several purposes from a prison, to fortress, to armory, treasury, public records, torture chamber (though torture is and never was officially legally part of English Law), and a few other reasons. Yet it is most commonly known for a prison where British prisoners, traitors, or anyone who dare disobey tyrannical kings (such as Henry VIII) would be imprisoned. During the reign of King Henry VIII it held famous prisoners such as Anne Boleyn, St.Thomas More, & St. John Fisher. Today their bodies, along with others are buried in the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula located inside the tower.
Personally the only thing I knew about the tower were the executions and prison aspect. It is actually a pretty big place, with different parts serving for different purposes. It was amazing to know that so many of the British monarchs of the past roamed, even lived and slept, in those quarters. Truly a living piece of history. So much history is in the building(s) that it would take years to learn about, considering that the first section of it was built around 1070 A.D.
There are even religious inscriptions on the wall left by clergy and Catholic prisoners held captive there during the English Protestant Reformation led by King Henry VIII. Truly an interesting place. But of course one of the highlights there were the armor used by actual kings and soldiers in years past along with the coveted crown jewels. The crown jewels are the crowns and jewels worn by previous monarchs during their reign. Some of the jewels go back centuries and we had to enter and exit out of massive vault doors to view them. Along with the crowns and jewels are instruments which are used doing the coronation of new monarchs and other official state business. Huge golden bowls used for baptisteries, long maces made of the most precious of jewels, and the golden spoon used to place oil on the new monarch during their anointing. The British truly know how to work pomp and circumstance.
No photographs are to be used when visiting the crown jewels because some cameras can detect the lasers which protect the jewels. If the lasers can be detected than the jewels are at risk to be seized. If a photograph is taken than security will take your camera away and it will not be given back. But one thing you can take pictures of are the black ravens which roam the grounds of the tower. There are huge birds and we even heard one gawk a few times. The “ancient legend” has it that if the “The ravens of the Tower of London are lost or fly away, than the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” There are always at least six ravens freely roaming among the grounds, with a seventh raven caged just to be sure. The origin of the legend is unknown some believe it to be a Victorian era imagination flutter, while some believe it dates back much further. Regardless of the origin, the Brits take it seriously and these birds are well kept, fed, and pampered. These massive, black birds just add another ominous level of mystery and horror of this aging place. A place which will continue to keep tourists coming there for years to come.