London has, of course, many unmissable modern attractions. Vast swathes of people every year are drawn to the giant rotating wheel that’s London Eye and the spectacular views of the city it offers. And yet, cross the river to the northern side via the nearby Millennium Bridge, take a short stroll east along the embankment and you’ll come to a building that’s actually stood for a whole millennium – the extraordinary Tower of London.
Undoubtedly one of the best known of the city’s attractions (and one of the very best regarded of its historical venues), the Tower dates back to a year that should be instantly recalled by every British schoolchild – 1066. The year when the nation’s long line of monarchs could be said to have begun, along with the medieval era itself. For it was then that the notorious William the Conqueror invaded the British Isles, gained control of the country and was crowned its first Norman king. The Tower then was deliberately designed to be his London fortress, ensuring it started out as a stately yet striking, stone stronghold.
Its history over its near thousand-year-existence has been nothing if not eventful, though. For, as time wore on and England’s kings (and occasional queens) erected castles up and down the country to establish necessary regional power-bases, while London grew as a city to such an extent that its own militia, city walls and citizens could look after the place themselves, the role of the Tower changed – again and again. First, it became a high-class prison and, thus, centre for torture and execution. Then, as society evolved and the monarchs too became a more civilised lot it transitioned into a palace and a jewel depository to store all their riches, while a private menagerie of exotic animals filled out part of its grounds.
Nowadays, of course, it’s recognised not just as one of London’s chief tourist attractions, but as one of the best in the world – thanks to its sensational architecture, historical resonance and truly brilliant tours held by the live-in Beefeater guards. Reason indeed then, should you be staying relatively nearby in the centre of the city (at, say, Park Grand London Paddington or Paddington Suites London) to make sure you pay the place a visit.
Fantastic Tower facts
- The well-known saying ‘If the ravens leave The Tower, the Kingdom will fall’ refers to the fact half a dozen of the birds live within the building’s walls – and they still do so owing to this very superstition
- Although famed for its executions, the Tower’s only been the site for 22 (as far as we know), including the Tudor period figures Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Katherine Howard and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex
- Underlining just how impressive a fortress it once was, the structure’s only actually been breached once – during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381
- In the mid-19th Century, the moat that surrounded the Tower was producing such a foul stench it was believed to have killed several people via cholera and hospitalised up to 80 others thanks to infecting the city’s water supply – the result being it was drained and became a dry (now grassy) ditch
- One morning during the First World War, 11 enemy spies were executed on the grounds – and later that day members of the public were allowed visitors’ access just as usual
- At different times, the royal menagerie featured lions, monkeys, elephants, zebras and even polar bears
- The Crown Jewels (which include a crown and sceptres dating back around 350 years to the reign of King Charles II) are just part of a collection of 23,500 jewels stored in the Tower – their overall value’s thought to top £20 billion!