The Tower of London, palace and prison of English monarchs for over 900 years, is steeped in blood and history. Conceived by William the Conqueror in 1067 to provide protection from rather than to his new subjects, the original wooden palisade was replaced by a stone structure in 1078 that over the next 20 years would grow into the White Tower. Colorfully dressed Yeomen Warders, or “Beefeaters” (a reference to their former daily allowance of meat), serve as guards and guides.

From the western entrance near the Middle Tower, you pass over the old moat, now a garden, entering the Outer Ward though Byward Tower. Just beyond Byward Tower is a massive Bell Tower, dating from 1190; the curfew bell has been rung nightly for over 500 years. The stretch of the Outer Ward along the Thames is Water Lane, which until the 16th century was adjacent to the river. Traitor’s Gate was built by Edward I for his personal use, but it is now associated with the prisoners who passed through it on their way to execution at Tower Green. Some of the victims are buried in the Chapel Royal of St. Peter and Vincula, including Catholic martyr Saint Thomas More and Henry VIII’s wives

Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn. White Tower is now home to a huge display of arms and armor from the Royal Armory. Across the green is the Bloody Tower, so named because Richard III allegedly imprisoned and murdered his nephews here before usurping the throne in 1483.

The most famous sights in the Tower are the Crown Jewels; moving walkways ensure no awestruck gazers hold up the queue. While the eye is naturally drawn to the Imperial State Crown, featuring the Stuart Sapphire along with 16 others, 2876 diamonds, 273 pearls, 11 emeralds, and a mere five rubies, don’t miss the Sceptre with the Cross, topped with the First Star of Africa, the largest quality-cut diamond in the world. This was hewn from an even larger monster, the 3106-carat Cullinan diamond. Other famous gems include the Koh-i-Noor, set into the Queen Mother’s Crown; legend claims the stone will bring luck only to women. Numerous retired crowns and other treasures are displayed in the Martin Tower, at the end of Wall Walk. (Tower Hill. 7709 0765; Tube: Tower Hill. Open Mar.-Oct M-Sa 9am-5:30pm, Su 10am-5:30pm; Nov.-Feb. M 10am-4:30pm, Tu-Sa 9am-4:30pm. £12, students and seniors £9. Tickets also sold at Tube stations; buy them in advance to avoid horrendous lines. Audio tours £3. lhr. tours every 90min. M-Sa 9:30am-3:30pm, Su 10am-3:30pm. Free.)


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