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Tower of London

Tower of London

Built to instil fear in the citizens of London and protect the city from invasions, for many centuries the Tower of London served as a state prison and a fortress. The turbulent history of the Tower is one of betrayals, executions of traitors, spies and even the murders of princes and queens. Yet, despite its violent past, today the Tower of London is one of the city’s and the country’s iconic attractions. Do not miss the thrilling experience that awaits you behind its mighty walls. Hear its gruesome history as told by one of the Yeoman Wardens, learn the legend of the ravens, yield a medieval sword, and then see the dazzling Crown jewels, bedecked with thousands of diamonds and worn by generations of British monarchs.

Once the fearsome guardians of the Tower and the crown jewels, today the Yeoman Wardens make hilariously entertaining tour guides. Don’t mistake them for historians or actors though, all of them have served in the army for at least two decades. Dressed in traditional medieval attire that was once worn by their predecessors underneath heavy armour, the wardens will guide you on a journey through the dark history of the Tower. 

The foundations of the tower were laid by William the Conqueror who wanted a fortress to protect himself from the English population he had conquered and to defend the city against invasions. When construction was completed at the end of the eleventh century the Tower rose as the most impressive structure in London. Throughout the ages the fortification was expanded by numerous kings until it reached the size and look it has today. While king Richard the Lionheart was crusading, his Chancellor carried out the biggest expansion nearly doubling the size of the fortress. Today the Tower consists of twenty defensive towers. 

The building that now captivates with its stern medieval design has seen many grim events take place over the course of its history. Initially the Tower served as a royal castle but gradually other more luxurious palaces overtook that function. The Tower came to function as a state prison, witnessing the tortures and executions of numerous traitors over the course of five centuries. This is where the young princes Edward and Richard mysteriously disappeared opening the way for their uncle to become the king of England. Here two of Henry VIII’s unfaithful wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, were beheaded.

The bloody history of the tower came to an abrupt ending during the second half of the 17th century when it ceased to serve as a state prison and was instead converted into headquarters for an army regiment serving the king. Today you can learn more about the history of the regiment by visiting the galleries of the Fusilier Museum within the Tower. During WWI and WWII the Tower once again became a state prison where spies were executed.

Although the castle underwent numerous architectural transformations throughout its history, in the 19th century one of Britain’s leading architects undertook the task of restoring it to its former medieval glory. Changes resulted in some of the later additions being remodelled to resemble the earlier, medieval look of the Tower. 

The tower has been visited by paying tourists since Shakespeare’s day. Yet, it started to function solely as a tourist attraction at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century when visitor numbers swelled to half a million per year. Today the Tower of London is a World Heritage site that attracts two million visitors annually

Visit the White Tower that is the original construction built by William the Conqueror back in the 11th century and that has been beautifully preserved for nearly a millennium. Sit inside the serene and equally ancient Chapel of St John for a chance to marvel its stripped-off medieval interiors. The jewels are considered to be the most spectacular exhibits on display in the Tower. Here you can see the dazzling crown of the Queen Mother bedecked with thousands of diamonds, as well as marvel the largest colourless diamond in the world, The Star of Africa that adorns the Sovereign’s Sceptre. 

See the six ravens who are the guardians of the Tower. Since the reign of king Charles II the ravens have been kept here as legend has it that if they flee, the Tower and the kingdom will fall. Luckily the legend is just a superstition and despite the fact that some ravens have wandered away and others have been discharged, the Tower still stands strong after nearly a millennium since its construction. In fact, today you will find a flock of seven and not six ravens. Learn the curious story of the Menagerie, a collection of exotic animals that lived behind the walls of the tower. Tigers, lions, polar bears and ostriches, among others abided at the Tower until the beginning of the 19th century when its last animal inhabitants were transferred to the newly opened London Zoo.  

Visiting the Tower of London is one of those thrills you should not miss on while in London. Journey through time and the history of the city and the nation by hearing tales of the people who have lived and died here and wandering through the stone interiors. Let your London magic begin here!

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