In the 1070's, William the Conqueror began to build a massive stone tower in the middle of his stone fortress in the middle of London. The White Tower was intended to dominate the City and to show his victory and power over the subjugated people.
Today the Tower continues to hold people in its power, with over two million visitors coming to view it every year.
And boy howdy, was it packed.
The above is the White Tower, begun by William, and is the most iconic portion of the mass of buildings consisting of "The Tower of London," but there are many many more. I've read about this place for a long time, and even watched documentaries about it, but I never realized just how big it actually is.
The two main highlights (I think) are the Crown Jewels in the Waterloo Barracks and the collections belonging to the Royal Armouries, in the museum of the Tower of London.
Photography is sadly forbidden in the actual rooms containing the jewels, but let me tell you they are splendid.
First you stand in a very long queue that reminded me of those at Cedar Point. Walking through the front doors . . .
. . . and are lead into a second queue that snakes around as one looks at pictures of various Kings and Queens holding the orb and scepter and wearing crowns. After the Civil War and resulting Parliamentarian victory (lead by Oliver Cromwell) in 1649, the Crown Jewels were broken down and melted for currency, or were sold for the benefit of the Commonwealth.
After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Charles II ordered a new set of Crown Jewels made, and in the future more crowns, maces, etc. would be added to the collections.
There's actually a lot more to see than just crowns and scepters. For example, the Imperial Mantle is on display:
As is the Coronation Spoon:
But the crowns themselves - plus the scepter - were the absolute best. Located in elevated cases, there are two moving-floor flat escalator-like things, (like you find in the airport, work with me here), people stand on and are ferried past the objects. This is probably to keep people from lingering and clogging up the viewing area. I think they move too fast, but you can get back on and go through as many times as you like.
The jewels were amazing, and the Tower included some amusing anecdotes about them, under the title "The crown is down!" On such story reads, "Queen Victoria was not amused when her Imperial State Crown was badly damaged at the State Opening of Parliament in 1845. Pity the poor Duke of Argyll, who while proudly carrying the crown on a cushion let it fall to the ground with a 'great crash'. The Queen later described it as 'all crushed, & squashed, looking like a pudding that had sat down'."
If the jewels were pretty and awe-inspiring (not to mention very sparkly), the Royal Armouries museum hosted in the White Tower is, if not particularly pretty, at least awe-inspiring (these are not sparkly, however).
The entrance floor contains the Line of Kings display, highlighting the historical development of armor, but even more importantly promoting the king's right to rule, being originally set up in 1660 after the restoration of the monarchy.
On the first floor is St. John's Chapel, one of the most complete examples of early Anglo-Norman ecclesiastical architecture.
The second floor hosts The Power House, which talks about the various goings-on that once took place in the Tower: the Mint, Menagerie, state prison and Record Office to the Ordnance and Armouries.
The basement holds great guns and mortars, trophies and pikes, swords and muskets. This is also where prisoners including Guy Fawkes (failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605) and John Gerard (undercover Jesuit priest in 1594) were tortured, for "every device and instrument of human torture was there."
The Tower is of course where the famous armor belonging to Henry VIII resides:
There were also other objects one would expect:
A few things that were out of the ordinary:
And some things were completely out of left field:
Probably the most interesting thing about the Tower, despite all of its history, and what it holds, etc., is just the mere sight of a Medieval fortress sitting in the middle of all these glass and steel skyscrapers.
The Tower itself is beautiful (more so now than it would have been in its heyday, if we're being honest with ourselves):
As someone who has a weakness for historical buildings in general and forts in particular, this was a real treat to finally see in person.
In the past, the Tower was the symbol of governmental authority, even suppression, over Londoners. It saw royalty and prisoners, coronations and executions.
Today it sees millions of visitors, and its once-formidable buildings have been thrown open to welcome and entertain them.
I pulled a lot of material from the handy guidebook I purchased at the Tower:
Experience the Tower of London, Souvenir Guidebook. Historic Royal Palaces: Tower of London.