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London Sights to See - Tower of London
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Few prisons on Earth can claim to be as popular as the Tower of London, an attraction - unpleasant for some - for over 900 years covering 18 acres of English soil. Its twenty brooding towers are filled with ancient traditions and tales of royal blood, armor and jewels and the history to match.

Tower of London, the White TowerThe central structure of the Tower of London actually began as a fort - used by the original builder William the Conqueror who completed the first tower around 1100 AD. Upon completion, it was the tallest building in London. Henry III had it whitewashed in the 13th century and the name, White Tower, has stuck.

In time, it evolved into a prison, used by Henry VII (and many others). Still later - and continuing to this day - it has acted as a repository for the extensive collection of crown jewels. Henry VII, nearly always short of money, had few jewels to store.

Among other things, the stone complex, near the Tower Bridge alongside the River Thames, has also been used at various times to house the Royal Mint, the Public Records, the Royal Menagerie (later to form the starting point of the London Zoo) and an observatory (built in 1675).

Since Henry VII appointed them in 1485, the Tower has been guarded by the Yeoman Warders - popularly known as "Beefeaters", with their distinctive red costumes. The function is now actually performed by retired military personnel.

The spiral staircase which runs up the interior of the tower is the only path up and it leads to the Royal Armouries - Britain's national museum of arms and armor, with 40,000 pieces on display. Beginning public display during the reign of Charles II, the armory is Britain's oldest public museum.

Other buildings have been added through the centuries, including the Middle Tower, the Byward Tower, Garden (Bloody) Tower, and Traitor's Gate across the moat. The moat, fortunately, was drained around the time of the last tower was built back in 1843.

Through the centuries the prison has harbored several famous, and usually royal, tenants, including Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII's second wife), the famed "little princes" (Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, alleged victims of Richard III), and Sir Walter Raleigh. Evidence of that painful and murderous history can be seen in the racks and other torture devices still on display, not to mention the still bloody stones which can also be seen here and there.

The centerpiece of interest for most visitors, however, has to be, without question, the Crown Jewels housed in the Jewel House, Waterloo Block. Here, the visitor to London can view dozens of crowns, jeweled scabbards, and an array of emerald and ruby studded collars, necklaces and the like.

Imperial State CrownThere are several famous large stones housed here including the Cullinan II, set in the Imperial State Crown used for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. Not to be outshone, there's also the equally famous Kohinoor ("Mountain of Light"), which weighs in at over 200 carats.

The centerpiece of the jewel collection has to be the 530-carat Star of Africa. This egg-sized diamond was actually cut down from the much larger Cullinan, originally over 3,000 carats, extracted from a South African mine at the beginning of the 20th century.

For those with the time, and who plan ahead, there's one attraction here that's only held after closing: The Ceremony of the Keys. Held nightly between 9:30 and 10:00 the ritual has been performed without interruption for 700 years. That's what I call tradition.

Sightseeing, Tours, Attractions and Things to do in London. Visit the Tower of London.

More Sights to See in London


William the Conqueror - Henry III - White Tower - Henry VII - Tower Bridge - River Thames - Royal Mint - Royal Menagerie - London Zoo - Yeoman Warders - Beefeaters - Royal Armouries - Charles II - Middle Tower - Byward Tower - Garden Tower - Bloody Tower - Traitor's Gate - Anne Boleyn - Edward V - Richard, Duke of York - Little Princes - Sir Walter Raleigh - Crown Jewels - Jewel House - Waterloo Block - Cullinan II - Imperial State Crown - Kohinoor - Mountain of Light - Star of Africa - The Ceremoney of the Keys

Page Updated 12:17 PM Monday 7/27/2015