The Tower of London is a landmark historical structure of London, England. It is basically a fortress, which was founded in 1066 AD, during the Norman invasion. The actual name of the structure is “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress”. But it is widely known as the Tower of London; named after the White Tower situated at the center of it. After its initial foundation, the castle was expanded a number of times. It has been used as the royal residence, prison, national treasury and even as a zoological garden. Currently the tower is a very popular tourist spot, home of the crown jewel and recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Tower of London was built on the bank of Tames. The purpose of it was to protect the capital London. The 27 meter tall magnificent White Tower was made by William the Conqueror in 1070 AD after he defeated the English. The surrounding castle we see today was made afterwards and expanded throughout the medieval period. The final form of the castle was achieved in 1350 AD.
The Tower has often been used as a royal prison. The most famous of the royal prisoners were Prince Edward and Richard; popularly known as the “Princes of the Tower”. They were imprisoned in 1483 by their uncle Richard III. The remainders of their bodies were found in 1930s. In later periods the Tower witnessed more political murders. Many prisoners were beheaded or even burned in the castle.
The Tower of London has always played a prominent role in England’s history. Though in later medieval period it became a less active place, still it housed many government organizations that ran the state. During the period of Edward II and III the Tower became more like a prison. Its security was tightened and the structure was renovated. It was also used as a ‘safe place’ for the king.
During the Peasant’s Revolt in 1831, the Tower was captured by the rebellions. The king Richard II was inside the tower when the siege took place. The Jewel House was looted. The mob also beheaded the Arch Bishop. Later when Henry IV replaced Richard II, he was kept as a prisoner in the White Tower. After Richard II arranged a coup, Henry IV took shelter under the safety of the Tower.
During Henry V’s reign the Tower of London imprisoned many high profile royal personals. It was besieged and damaged once again when the House of York army attacked Henry VI. After Henry’s capture, he was imprisoned and eventually killed inside the Tower. At this time the Tower’s defense was strengthened.
As the Tudor dynasty became the ruler of England, starting with Henry VII, the Tower of London was almost no longer used as the residence of the king. Though effort was made to improve its defense, the structure was becoming feeble in front of modern artillery. The Tower was losing its effectiveness as a safe-house, but remained important for its historical image. Many parts of the Tower became uninhabitable and it was mainly used to hold prominent prisoners like Guy Fawkes, who tried to kill King James. Secret executions also took place in the Tower, especially in those cases where public executions were risky.
The Tower of London was under the control of the Parliament at the time of the civil war. For several years it remained unrepaired. In 1700s the Tower was actually very weak as a castle despite several repairs. In 1885, the Waterloo Barrack was built inside the castle, which is now the headquarter of Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
During the World War 1, eleven spies were executed at the Tower. It was used as a prison in both World Wars 1 and 2. German bombing in WW2 damaged several parts of the castle. However, the White Tower did not undergo any damaged.
At present time, the Tower of London is a famous tourist spot. From as early as 1851, the authority started to sell tickets to the visitors for the first time. An independent charity named “Historic Royal Places” manages the Tower now. It houses the Crown Jewels which feature some of the world’s largest and most valuable gems.
Another tourist attraction is the Yeoman Warder guided tour. Yeoman Warders are also known as Beefeaters and they are considered as a British icon. Each tour lasts for one hour and starts every thirty minutes. The last tour is held at 3:30 PM in summer and at 2:30 PM in winter.
The torture cells and replicas of torture instruments are on display for the tourists. The Tower of London is infamous for torturing and killing many royal prisoners.
The Royal Mint, replicas of the king figures and the Royal Beasts exhibitions are some other interesting things to see at the Tower.
The fortress and the palace rooms themselves provide fascinating opportunity for the tourists to gain an experience about the kings’ life in medieval period. Tower authority has made the medieval interiors come alive with careful re-creation. One of the main attractions is the Edward I’s bed chamber.
Interestingly, there are always at least six Ravens kept at the Tower of London. Because the legend says that if the Ravens leave, the Kingdom will fall. The myth was started by Charles II. Now, the resident Ravens have become a tourist attraction.
In addition to the Raven myth, the Tower of London is known to be a place where presence of ghostly entities is frequently reported. A female figure carrying her head under the arm is allegedly seen walking around the White Tower. Ghosts of Henry V, her wife and many other apparitions have been reported. In 1816 a grizzly bear’s apparition has reportedly caused death to one of the tower’s guards. Ghost presence was also described by the Keeper of the Crown Jewels in 1817. Incidents from as early as 2009 mention the Tower of London as a haunted place. However, presumably these types of stories are just stories.
Tickets and opening hours
During the summer, the Tower of London is open for the tourists from 9 AM to 5:30 PM (Tuesday to Saturday) or from 10 AM to 5:30 PM (Sunday, Monday). During the winter, the visiting time is 9 AM to 4:30 PM (Tuesday to Saturday) or 10 AM to 4:30 PM (Sunday, Monday).
Current ticket price (if purchased at the gate) is £24.50 per adult, £11 per child (5 – 15 years old) and £18.70 for full time students (above 16), disabled persons or adults over 60. You must bring ID cards for receiving these concessions. There is also a £60.70 family ticket for two adults with up to three children.
You can get an annual membership for £47, which will give you entry to five palaces.
Note that all the above ticket prices include voluntary donations.
Ticket prices are little less if bought online. It is also possible to book tickets by telephone by giving a £2 extra fee.