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Tower of London

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The tower of London (The tower of London. At the center of the fortress: the White Tower; on the Thames: Tower Bridge)

Location: London Borough of Tower Hamlets, London, England
Coordinates: 51°30′29″N 00°04′34″W
– Castle: 12 acres (4.9 ha)
– Tower Liberties: 6 acres (2.4 ha)
Height: 27 metres (89 ft)
– White Tower: 1078
– Inner Ward: 1190s
– Rebuild: 1285
– Wharf Expansion: 1377–1399
Visitors: 2,785,249 (in 2015)
UNESCO World Heritage Site
– Designated: 1988 (12th session)
– Reference no.: 488

The Tower of London is a historic fortress located on the north bank of the Thames in London, England, next to Tower Bridge. The tower is located in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets located east of the City of London in an area called Tower Hill. Its construction began towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman conquest of England. The White Tower, which gave its name to the whole castle, was built on the orders of William the Conqueror in 1078 and was considered a symbol of oppression inflicted on London by the ruling class. The castle was used as a prison since 1100. He also served as a grand palace and royal residence. Overall, the tower is a complex of several buildings surrounded by two concentric defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly during the reigns of Richard I, Henry III and Edward I in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The general plan established at the end of the thirteenth century not evolved despite subsequent activities within these walls.

The Tower of London has played a key role in the history of England. It was repeatedly besieged and its control was important in controlling the country. The tower served as an armory, treasury and menagerie, it received the Royal Mint and public archives and is home to the British crown jewels. From the beginning of the fourteenth century to the reign of Charles II, a procession was organized to Westminster Abbey for the coronation of the British monarch. In the absence of the king, the Constable of the Tower, a powerful position in medieval times, was in charge of the fortress. During the Tudor period, the tower lost its role as a royal residence, and despite some modifications, his defenses were not adapted to the progress of artillery.

The Tower of London (The Tower of London seen from the Thames, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower_of_London_viewed_from_the_River_Thames.jpg)

The inmate use of the tower reached its peak in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when many people fell out of favor, as Elizabeth I before she became queen, were locked up there. This usage is at the origin of the phrase “sent to the Tower” meaning imprisoned. Despite its lingering reputation as place of torture and death, popularized by religious propagandists of the sixteenth century and the nineteenth-century writers, only seven people were executed in the tower before the twentieth century. Executions were usually carried out at Tower Hill to the north of the tower where 112 people were executed over a period of 400 years. In the second half of the nineteenth century, institutions such as the Royal Mint left the tower to other locations leaving many vacant buildings. The architects Anthony Salvin and John Taylor took the opportunity to restore the tower and restore its medieval appearance by removing structures built after that period. During both world wars, the Tower was again used as a prison and was the place of twelve executions for espionage. After World War II, the devastation caused by the Blitz was repaired and the tower was reopened to the public. Today the tower is a World Heritage by UNESCO and hosts several million visitors per year.

Crown jewels

St. Edward's Crown (Copy of the St. Edward’s Crown, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St._Edwards_Krone_(Nachbildung_auf_den_Bahamas).jpg)

The tradition of sheltering the crown jewels in the tower probably dates back to the reign of Henry III. The Jewel House was built specifically to host the regalia including the crowns, scepters and ceremonial swords. When the king needed money, they could be pledged. The treasure allowed the monarch independence in relation to the aristocracy and it was particularly monitored. A new post of “keeper of the jewels of the arsenal and other business” was created and well paid. Its duties were increased to cover the purchase of gold, silver and jewels and the appointment of royal jewelers and goldsmiths. In 1649, during the English Civil War, the contents of the Jewel House was emptied of royal properties. Metal objects were sent to the mint to be melted and reused and crowns were “completely broken and disfigured.” When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the only elements of the coronation regalia were a spoon from the twelfth century and three ceremonial swords. The other objects had to be recreated. In 1669, the Jewel House was demolished and the crown jewels were moved to the Martin tower where they were exposed to the public. This was operated two years later when Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal it. Blood and his accomplices froze and gagged the custodian. They managed to grab the ceremonial crown, scepter and the globe but were spotted by the son of the guard who gave the alarm. The crown jewels are being kept in the Waterloo Barracks of the tower. When visitors enter the room with the jewels, several rules are imposed: the tour guides are not to enter the room; only visitors are allowed; it is strictly forbidden to photograph the jewels as they are called sacred under penalty of imprisonment.


Beefeaters (Two “Beefeaters” in traditional dress, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beefeaters,_Tower_of_London_-_geograph.org.uk_-_908658.jpg)

The Royal Menagerie is referenced for the first time during the reign of Henry III. In 1251, the menagerie welcomed a polar bear, donated by the King of Norway, which attracted the attention of Londoners when he went fishing in the Thames. Three years later, the king ordered the construction of a shelter for an elephant offered by the King of France, but he survived only two years in England. The exact location of the medieval menagerie is unknown although the lions were sheltered in the barbican known as Lion Tower. The royal collection was swelled by diplomatic gifts including three leopards offered by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In the eighteenth century, the menagerie was open to the public; entry cost three pennies or contribution of a cat or a dog to feed the lions. The last animal was moved in 1835 to Regent’s Park after a lion was accused of biting a soldier. The guardian of the royal menagerie had the right to live in the Lion Tower until his death. Therefore, even if all the animals had left since a long time the building, the Lion Tower was not demolished before the latter’s keeper death in 1853.

Animal sculptures of the menagerie by artist Kendra Haste are installed in the enclosure as a reminder of that time.

Translated from WIkipedia

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