on August 27, 2010
The Tower of London is considered to be a must-see attraction when visiting London. Although I have visited London regularly over the last 3 years Sunday, 30 May was my first chance to see this famous site.Brief history:The Tower of London is described as the heart and soul of England. Its official name is Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, but it is more commonly known as the Tower of London and historically as The Tower. It is often identified with the White Tower, however as a whole it is a complex of several buildings built over the last thousand years set within two concentric rings of defensive walls, which in turn are surrounded by a moat.Going back to Roman times and beyond there were already fortifications on this site. In 1066 William The Conqueror landed in England and after beating King Harold won the crown of England. To help control London as well as England he built a new fortress, some parts of which rest on Roman foundations. The fortress became known as the White Tower. Over the following 900 years the White Tower has been extended and added to subsequently becoming a royal palace, state prison, the Mint, a record office, observatory and zoo. Today it is cared for by Historical Royal Palaces and is open all year to the general public. What can you see?Once you have passed through the main entrance at Byward Tower you are free to visit whichever parts of the attraction you like. Nearby the entrance there is a Yeoman Warder tours’ site from where you can join a tour party guided by a Beefeater, who will take you on 60 minute tour of The Tower. However I had pre-booked an audio guide on-line so I decided to discover The Tower in my own way utilising this very useful tool.After walking through Byward Tower you will see a tall wall on your left. From the stones’ colour you can figure out Tower of London is not built in one day. On your right side you can see a water lane and a Traitors gate, in front of which are Bloody and Wakefield Towers, respectively. (1) Bloody TowerThe Bloody Tower is the most infamous tower. It's believed the Duke of Gloucester, later to become King Richard III, imprisoned and killed his two young nephews, the princes who were the rightful heirs to the crown. Another sad story was linking with the famous English sailor, Sir Walter Raleigh. From 1603 to 1616 he remained in the tower as a prisoner. During the time he wrote the first volume of The Historie of the World about the ancient history of Greece and Rome. At the ground floor you can see what his life was like as well as the book. At the first floor you can find out more about the two young princes.My observations: I was shocked to hear Sir Walter Raleigh actually had a son who was born here. When I saw the pictures of the young princes in the small room, after climbing the steep stairs I felt more sad. (2) Queen’s HouseTo the left of the Bloody Tower can be seen a brown structure with white windows that is the Queen's House, which was built around 1530 with typical Tudor style, trimmed with wood. It survived the Great Fire of London of 1666 and is well preserved. Today the head of The Tower lives there and a guard is placed at the door. That said Henry VIII built the Queen's House for his second wife, Anne Boleyn. However she was soon afterwards beheaded by him at the Tower Green. Later, in 1608, at Queen’s House Guy Fawkes was made to confess his plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder.My observations: The name of Anne Boleyn was mentioned a few times during my trip. Obviously she was a key figure in the history of the Tower. She arrived the Tower through the aforementioned Traitors gate. I supposed at the moment she would never foresee the upcoming beheading. I have my deep sympathy for her, but I don’t understand her last statement before she died, in which she still wished the king controlling the country for ever. I also don’t understand why the Tower let their staff live there rather than open it for public.(3) Tower GreenThe Tower Green is located in front of Queen’s House and Beauchamp Tower. Because beheading in the privacy of the Tower Green was considered a privilege of rank, so in fact not many people were killed there except two English Queens and other five British nobles. Most prisoners in the Tower were executed in public on Tower Hill just outside the fortress. Today at the Scaffold site there is a small sculpture to commemorate the died. My observations: If I didn’t see the grass land in person I would not believe such scary beheading happened there. I was trying to walk slowly and quietly. I also wished they have the permanent peace and the repeat happens nowhere in the world.(4) Beauchamp TowerThe Beauchamp Tower stands on the west green. It was built by Henry III and his son, Edward I, but takes its name from Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, imprisoned 1397-99 by Richard II. The three-storey structure was built for defensive purposes but used often for prisoners of high rank. At the ground floor you can read prisoners’ stories with their pictures. At the first floor you can see many inscriptions carved on the stone walls by prisoners. My observations: I heard a few sad stories about the prisoners there, but the most surprised one is about the Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for just nine days from Monday 10th July 1553 to Wednesday 19th July 1553. She watched her husband go from the Beauchamp Tower to his death on Tower Hill. A few hours later she was executed on the Green and she was just 17 years old. (5) Crown JewelsLeaving Beauchamp Tower and walking upwards you can see a guard standing in front of a building called the Jewel House. It is one of the big draws at the Tower of London because there you have the chance to see Crown Jewels, which refers to the objects used by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremony and at other state functions. Not only can you see the crowns, sceptres, orbs, swords, rings, spurs, and the royal robe or pall, as well as several other objects connected with the ceremony itself, but also you can watch the Queen’s telly coronation ceremony. Mind you it’s a working museum that means at some particular days the Queen will use her crown for opening parliament meeting every year. Every treasure there is priceless, but the most famous two are the 530-carat Star of Africa and Koh-i-Noor diamond. My observations: it was the highlight of my visit. When I entered the Tower I first popped over here and returned to it when I finished other sites. I was pleased to see these delicate and beautiful treasures and listen to the stories behind them. Believe or not I totally walked around the crowns for six circles because I had the difficulty to figure out Star of Africa due the shining light from these diamonds. If the staff didn’t show me the closing time I’m sure I would spend more time on them. Anyway in case the staff became suspicious of my intentions I had to say goodbye to these crowns, being the last couple visitors on the day. It would be interesting to see one day somebody challenge their safety system. Don’t feel nervous. This astonishing collection has been on public display at the Tower since the 17th with only one attempt to steal them.
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