March 11, 2011

A Tower and a Bridge

London is an old city. I grew up in New England and, for the new world, Boston is an old city. But, London is different. Here there is a feeling of history in the stones and the alleyways.

On one of our last days in Europe we visited the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Sandwiched between the tall buildings of London’s financial business districts and the modern architecture on the south side of the Thames, this medieval castle is dwarfed. In centuries past it must have been an impressive sight - huge stone walls and towers on the sitting guard on the edge of the river. Protected by a moat, embankments, and walls it also stood formidable against any enemies. This place has watched history unfold in this city for almost a thousand years.

We began our visit with history on the Tower Bridge. This bridge is one of the iconic pieces of London architecture. It majestically spans the Thames linking the historic side of London with the more modern South Bank.

After walking along the bridge we headed to the entrance of the Tower of London. On all my visits to London, this was going to be the first time I went inside the castle walls. (Perhaps the almost £20 ticket price had something to do with that... However, this time since I had my husband Jonathan to explore the castle and share the experience with that seemed okay.)

Once inside we began to realize just how much there is to see at the Tower of London. In addition to the White Tower, there are the castle walls and many other buildings. There are also several exhibits, including the crown jewels and numerous sets of armour belonging to English kings.

When you visit the Tower you have two options, to explore on your own or take one of the guided tours led by the Yeoman. We decided to take the independent approach and began walking around the castle walls and the various buildings along the edge of the castle grounds. From there we went to the chapel and finally ended our visit with the exhibits in the Jewel House and the White Tower.

Like Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London is full of history. While the Tower started as a royal residence, but was eventually used as a prison during the time of King Henry VIII. This is where that king held two of his wives and many others prisoner before having them executed. Several of his victims are buried under the floor of the chapel.

One thing I did not expect to see was the historic graffiti. We often think of this type of art (or vandalism) as a modern phenomenon, but that is most definitely not true. At places around the Tower of London you can see where visitors and prisoners inscribed their names or messages into the stone walls. In particular, Catholic monks and priests held captive by Queen Elizabeth I carved passages from the bible and elaborate drawings in addition to their initials and calendar dates or years.

We walked around for over two hours and still did not see everything... It was fun and interesting to visit a place that has been witnessing history for for so long.

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