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Featuring guest writer Medha Bhatt
When you come from the original country of the Kohinoor, a trip to the Tower of London needs no reason. As I walked on the north bank of the River Thames, I couldn’t get my eyes off this mighty fortress. The royal palace, the infamous prison, the home of crowned jewels – there is simply so much history associated with this grand old monument.
My visit to this historic castle was sombre, yet engaging. It was a typical English summer day, with the sun peeping out in-between the clouds. As I entered the castle, I spotted some Yeomen Warders or the ‘Beefeaters’ as they are popularly known. They had a unique way of telling the history of the castle, so I decided to follow the crowd and go back in time with them.
A few meters walk into the castle with them shows how history and the present coexist. The parallel universe of the beefeaters, who live with their families in the castle, is one of the several remarkable things about this historic site. These royal guards of the tower serve a minimum of 22 years in the armed forces, reaching the minimum rank of warrant officer.
The Yeoman Warders today are the ceremonial guards, but in the old days, were the actual protectors of the tower. Today, their role is more symbolic. If you get a chance, be there to witness the Ceremony of the Keys – a tradition that has been in place for more than seven hundred years!
My first stop was near the site of the Ravens. It is said that there are six ravens inside the tower that protect the crown and the tower. The Ravens are important to the history of this fortress and it is believed that if they leave the palace, the crown will fall and so will Britain. From the Bloody Tower, Crown Jewels, to the church and the white tower, there are so many things to see and do – so make sure you dedicate at least half a day to this site.
If you want to understand the history of the Tower of London and why it is called the infamous prison, then head to the Torture tower exhibition. As you enter the chamber, you’ll see three main instruments of torture: the rack, the Scavenger’s Daughter and the manacles. The Rack, the most common torture equipment used during the 16th and 17th century, was designed to stretch the victim’s body to the extent to dislocating the limbs and ripping them from their sockets. The most famous prisoner to be tortured in the tower was the Gunpowder Plotter Guy Fawkes.
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The torture tower is such a sombre and overwhelming experience that getting your mind off it is extremely difficult. As I walked out of that tower, aghast by the cruelty of the British monarchs, my eyes fell on the Jewels House. The Jewel House is home to the crowned jewels, which reflects another aspect of the British monarchy: colonialism and the mighty British Empire.
These ceremonial treasures have been mostly acquired by the English rulers since 1660. These jewels are a unique working collection of royal regalia that is still regularly used during public ceremonies. As you enter the tower, the lights are dimmed and in the darkroom, you’ll find a rectangular case that has all the jewels safely kept inside it.
The jewels are lit and there is a travellator that runs parallel to the exhibit. Visitors cannot walk into the room and have to take the traveler to see the exhibit. The jewels are really fascinating, one-of-its-kind that cannot be seen anywhere. They epitomize all the pomp and pageantry associated with British royalty. Unfortunately, visitors cannot stop and admire the jewels and are certainly not allowed to take pictures.
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- Free entry to over 60 attractions, tours and museums including Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Thames River Cruise, Tower Bridge, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, and more
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My third destination was the White Tower, that stands in the centre of the Tower of London. The White Tower is named after the white stone it is built from. The highlight of this tower is the Line of Kings – a unique display of royal armor. It is believed to be the world’s oldest tourist attraction.
The weaponry inside the White Tower includes hunting and sporting weapons from medieval times to the late-19th century. There are also arms and armors that belonged to Henry VIII. After seeing the weaponry, I took a trip back in time to visit the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula.
The church also has its share of the gory history of the castle as the bodies of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey amongst others were excavated here. Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII while Lady Jane Grey was the shortest reigning queen of England. Lady Jane reigned for nine days in 1553 and was executed in the church in 1554. To note this excavation, there is a marble floor inside the church that indicates their final resting places of these famous figures.
All in all, the Tower of London experience is criminal to miss for history buffs. Its rich history and collection are unmatched: from the execution of several famous English monarchs to the display of royalty, this palace has so much to offer! The Tower of London has a long history and served as a royal palace, a prison, a royal mint, a treasure vault among other things. No wonder this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site beckons everyone who sees it and serves as a time machine that is long lost in time!