Monday, September 04, 2006

The Tower of London

Of all the places in London, I was most looking forward to seeing the Tower of London to see the Crown jewels, where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner in the tower, how they lived behind the fortress, and of course their military warfare.Here we are standing in front of the Tower of London. The subway ride, and walk to get here lulled the baby to sleep.Monty Python anyone?

Uwe remarked that I'm "so American" for making a "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" reference. But come on! How could you not?

The construction of the Tower of London began during the reign of William the conqueror (1066-1087) and remained virtually unchanged for over a century. Then between 1190 and 1285, the White Tower was encircled by two towered curtain walls and a great moat. The only important enlargement of the Tower after that time was the building of the Wharf, begun by Edward III (1327-1377) and completed under Richard II (1377-1399). To this day the medieval defenses are essentially unchanged, except for the draining of the moat.

As you can see from the photo above, the moat has long since been drained around the castle, and where there used to be water there's now dry land and grass.

When there was water, you could enter the fortress by boat through the western entrance called "Traitor's Gate" where many famous prisoners entered the Tower of London before being executed. Or by land only by a series of gatehouses and drawbridges.

The building that is now used as the Gift Shop, was formerly used as the pumphouse.

(I went into the gift shop to pick up an official guidebook, and was asked "What language? Japanese?" It's not a surprise that they get a lot of Japanese tourists. It was nice to see that they have guidebooks translated into several different languages though. I got my English one as a souvenir, and it's helping me to remember what we saw and it's historical significance.)Uwe and Astrid standing in front of a display of English armor in the White Tower.

The White Tower marks the start of the Tower of London's history as both a palace and fortress. Today, it contains displays of arms and armor from the collection of Royal Armouries.For those of you who think Astrid never cries. Here's proof she does. She just did not want to have her photo taken.

Uwe holding Astrid in one of the tower's stone, spiral staircases.

Word of caution to any parents thinking of going with young children - there are lots of narrow, winding staircases and NO elevators or handicap access. Also, strollers are not allowed inside. So in order to see many of the exhibits, you have to carry your child up and then closely monitor them inside. A display of armor made for an adult, and the one next to it made for a child.A device to bound and shackle.Here's an illustration of how a person would have looked wearing it.Astrid chasing pigeons in the courtyard.

With proper supplies, an entire city could support itself inside the fortress, as there are buildings and parks and enough room for a small population.

In addition, the Tower used to have a "Royal Menagerie" which housed all sorts of animals including lions in cages, and had an exercise yard for the animals. The Menagerie was moved from the Tower in 1834 to form the London Zoo.

I had hoped to see the room that Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned in, in the Bell Tower, but they did not specify which room it was, other than just saying a lot of prisoners accused of treason were held up there. Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) was also imprisoned in the Tower (for 2 months) while she was questioned about her knowledge of plots against her half sister Mary I. You are allowed to go up and can see where prisoners have engraved their initials or sayings into the stone walls.

The Crown Jewels were impressive, although we weren't allowed to photograph them.

The Jewel House is in the Waterloo Barracks (built in the 19th century by the Duke of Willington to provide accommodations for almost 1,000 soldiers) in the Inner Ward. Entrance is via the main central door. Once inside the Jewel House you pass through a series of introductory areas that illustrate the use and history of the jewels, and include footage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, before reaching the Treasury where the Crown Jewels are held.

The Crown Jewels have been held in the Tower of London since the 14th century, except for the period of the 2nd World War when they were moved to a secret location before being returned to the Tower in 1945.

Among the collection of jewels is the First Star of Africa, the world's largest and best quality cut diamond weighing over 530 carats, which is set in the head of the Sovereign's Septre and Cross.

There is a conveyor belt in front of the glass encased royal crowns and septres to ensure everyone gets to see them in a timely fashion. You can always go back around and ride the conveyor belt again if you want another look.

One example was the Imperial State Crown made for the coronation of George VI in 1937, and altered for Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953. It is set with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 5 rubies, and 273 pearls.

Also, they really do have ravens on the grounds. Legend has it that Charles II was told that if the Ravens left the Tower, the kingdom would fall; so he ensured that a limited number of Ravens would be kept here permanently.

There was so much to see and so much history. I would love to go back and do an official tour with the Beefeaters (the Yeoman Warders)- the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London.

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