The Tower of London: London's Main Castle
The Tower of London is definitely one my favourite place on Earth: it has everything - the history, the prime location, the haunting appearance, her own exclusive inhabitants and even a 500-year old mystery. Its best characteristic, in my opinion, is the fact that its name has a very special connotation, suggesting a very unique character. Throughout the centuries since the Norman Conquest there would be numerous castles and towers in London, yet this one suggests a level of supremacy - mostly because it was one of the first stone towers to be erected. THE Tower of London. Of course, today by these four words we mean the whole building complex, which encompasses The White Tower (the centrepiece jewel), the Waterloo Barracks, The Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, numerous towers protruding from both curtain walls and many more buildings which have seamlessly woven themselves into this stoney tapestry.
Of course, originally, by these words you could only mean The White Tower, which proudly stands at ninety feet tall with walls fifteen feet thick. When it was first constructed, it was seen from miles and miles around, intimidating anyone who saw it, which was exactly its purpose.
The building of this fortress was put in motion by William the Conqueror in 1078, in order to assert his rule over the population and to show who was in charge from that point onwards.
The stone for its construction was brought over from Normandy. (Read this again. The stone to construct this giant behemoth of a 'tower' was brought over from Normandy. In the 11th century!!).
It was completed in 1100, the year of its first prisoner who ironically was also the first escapee, Ranulph Flambard. That's one of the fun facts about The Tower, of which there aren't too many. Two of my personal favourite facts that are half-fun are the following. When I last checked, The Tower was not listed on the official website of Historic Royal Palaces as a potential wedding venue, unlike Hampton Court or Banqueting House. Of course, it's no surprise, given the reputation.
A very curious moment with the Tower in my life came in winter 2016. I was giving a ghost tour and was stood along with my group just outside the menagerie. I was in the middle of telling the chilling story of the execution of Margaret de la Pole and all of the dozen blows it took to chop her head off, when the jaunty music of the ice skating rink of the Tower's moat started to play...Winter Wonderland indeed?
The Tower famously acquired its reputation after the numerous Tudor executions and imprisonments. 'To be sent to the Tower' was the sentence you didn't want to be the subject of. Up until then, it was used plenty as a medieval palace. There was a tradition that before being crowned, the royal person would spend the night at the Tower and go to Westminster Abbey the next day. Of course, today it would be difficult to make anyone stay the night within The Tower's walls.
Because it was one of the few stone constructions around, it was considered safe to keep things in: prisoners, money, jewels, weapons, animals etc. One of the first attractions you visit upon arrival is the (former) Royal Mint, conveniently situated on Mint Street. Back in its heyday, one of the first hotspots would be the Royal Menagerie, where the reigning monarchs kept a succession of exotic beasts - presents from other sovereigns. An elephant who was given red wine or ostrich who was fed iron nails are probably among the most colourful.
It's definitely one of the must stops when in London!
The official name of The Tower is actually: Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London.
The onion cupolas on top of the four towers of The White Tower weren't installed until Henry VIII was marrying his long-suffering wife-to-be Anne Boleyn and this was one of the ways he was celebrating the upcoming nuptials. I would have asked for an espresso machine, probably...and a neck pillow, given it's Henry VIII.
Like two of his wives, Henry VIII's mother - Elizabeth of York - also died at the Tower. Unlike them, she died in childbirth and her husband mourned her deeply.
The Tower of London is managed by Historic Royal Palaces .
Address: The Tower of London, England, EC3N 4AB
Entry: £29.90 per single visit, or alternatively you could get a membership for all six of Historic Royal Palaces sites, including the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. At the time of writing, the membership goes for about £62.
Public Transport Access: Tower Gateway and Tower Hill tube stations nearby.