Although it wasn’t our first stop, I’ll begin with the Tower of London. Unfortunately we only had 3 days to spend in London so we barely even scratched the surface! I won’t claim to have any grand insights or report on undiscovered corners of the city. But I will say that our time was a blast and hopefully we’ll see some more sights on a future visit. Now on to the Tower…
William the Conqueror, who apparently may have conquered a thing or two, began
construction of the “White Tower” in the Eleventh Century…this edifice gives the current complex its name, despite the significant expansion over the centuries to its current form of two concentric walls plus the moat (you gotta have a moat with a castle, of course!). The Tower has been everything from a prison, to the Royal Mint, to a palace, to the keeper of the Crown Jewels.
You will often read guidebooks recommending that you take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters and I would wholeheartedly agree! They are very informative and typically great fun as well. Officially, these men and women are charged with guarding any prisoners in the Tower as well as the Crown Jewels, but in modern times are primarily tour guides in everyday practice. Oh and they also have the duty of tending to the ravens that are continually kept in the tower grounds. Legend has it that the kingdom will fall should the Tower of London ever be devoid of its ravens. Talk about a lot of pressure on handful of birds! The robins and sparrows who visit our backyard bird feeder should appreciate the fact that I don’t insist upon their remaining on the property to keep our house intact. By the way, numerous theories abound for the unofficial moniker of Beefeater, but as far as I can find, no one prove for certain…so chalk it up to one of those fun mysteries.
One aspect of the Tower that we weren’t aware of was The Royal Menagerie. From the 13th through the 19th centuries, various exotic animals were houses within the Tower walls – a polar bear, an elephant, lions, and such – all part of the kings’ collections. At some point during the 1800s the menagerie was opened to the public until the wildlife were relocated completely. Today there are wire animal sculptures in place of actual
animals, but it was still cool to imagine what it was like having a polar bear and an elephant walking around the castle.
Viewing the Crown Jewels was quite an experience! A moving walkway transports visitors past the display cases housing the jewels, so if you don’t see everything on the first trip, just get back in line and go again. Photos are supposed to be forbidden however it was apparent that many folks disregarded this rule, and the various attendants were continually scolding those who did so.
This probably sounds strange but at first it was difficult for me to grasp that these are the real thing, as most of the time I don’t see huge diamonds, gemstones, and the like in everyday life. And when I do, it’s costume jewelry in a play or movie.
Of course, easily visible from in front of the Tower of London is the well-known 19th century Tower Bridge.