The Tower of London is one of the city’s most visited iconic structures. It is an internationally famous historic castle, located on the north bank of the River Thames in the heart of the capital. The castle was founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England and comprises of several buildings placed within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. Since the Elizabethan period, the Tower of London has been a popular tourist attraction and is protected by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
The Tower of London was built around the White Tower, receiving its name in the 13th century when Henry III had it whitewashed – a typical example of Norman military architecture. The tower was built by William the Conqueror and finished by his sons William Rufus and Henry I to protect London and assert their power. It was a symbol of the might and longevity of the new order and, arguably, the most important building of the Norman Conquest. It is important to mention that it currently houses the crypt of St. John’s Chapel, which used to be a place of worship and the area where the knights of the Order of Bath used to spend their Vigil before a royal crowning. Inside The White tower one can also observe an exhibition of armour, weapons and torture devices.
Out Of Favour
The Tower of London has had the function of an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, a public records office, the home of the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels of England. Controlling the tower meant controlling the country due to its strategic setting, defensive structure and garrison. However, it is most famous for its use as a prison. The term “sent to the Tower” has its roots in the 16th and 17th centuries when those who “had fallen into disgrace” were imprisoned there. Boats loaded with prisoners used to arrive at the Water Gate (which had its name changed to Traitor’s Gate due to its function as a landing place for traitors), with many hoping to be pardoned or ransomed.
The list of people with royal blood imprisoned here and some later executed include Edward V, Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey (the Tower is said to be haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn). To add, many surviving Catholic and Protestant prisoners recorded their experiences and thus shaped the story of the Reformation in England and contributed to forming the Tower’s reputation as a place of torture and death. To be fair, however, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the two World Wars and executions were more commonly performed on the notorious Tower Hill to the north of the castle.
After you have absorbed some of the London and England history at Tower of London, you may want to see one of these other notable attractions:
- Big Ben
- Hyde Park
- London Eye
- Tower of London
- Tower Bridge
- Westminster Abbey
- St Paul’s Cathedral
- Buckingham Palace
- British Museum
- National Gallery
The Tower’s main role in the 21st century is tourism. Each year, millions of people visit it to marvel at her Majesty’s precious Crown Jewels, guarded by the bold Beefeaters; explore the Coins & Kings exhibition which tells the story of the Mint at the Tower and learn about what life was like on Mint Street; wander around the chambers used by kings and queens that have been restored to their former glory; and see for themselves the six ravens under the care of the Yeomen Warders, kept at the Tower in accordance with the belief that if they are absent, the kingdom will fall.