The Tower of London is one of the most iconic landmarks in the United Kingdom, steeped in history and intrigue. Established in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, this venerable fortress has served as a royal palace, treasury, menagerie, observatory, public records office, and the home of the Royal Mint. However, it is perhaps most famous as a prison and site of execution for many notable historical figures.
Today, the Tower of London
is a vibrant museum that holds an astonishing collection of artifacts representing over 1,000 years of British history. Here are the top five historical artifacts you should not miss during your tour of this famous fortress:
1. The Crown Jewels
Without a doubt, the highlight of any trip to the Tower of London is a viewing of the spectacular Crown Jewels
. This unique collection, stored in a vault in the Waterloo Barracks, represents the official regalia and vestments used by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremony and other state functions.
Of particular note are the Cullinan Diamond, the largest clear-cut diamond in the world, set in the Sovereign's Sceptre; the Imperial State Crown, which contains over 2,800 diamonds along with other precious gems; and the ancient, hollowed-out Edward's Crown made of solid gold, used to crown the current monarch.
2. White Tower
The White Tower is the oldest part of the complex, built by William the Conqueror in the 1080s. Inside, you will find the Line of Kings Exhibition, which houses a breathtaking display of royal armor and weaponry. Highlights include Henry VIII's elaborate personal armor, Charles I’s intricate gilded armors, and various examples of medieval weaponry. These artifacts give a fantastic insight into the history of warfare, as well as the personal tastes and physical attributes of the monarchs who wore the armor.
The ravens of the Tower of London are not just live animals; they are considered to be living artifacts. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the tower, the kingdom will fall. To prevent such an event, the tower maintains a captive population of at least six ravens, each one cared for by a designated Ravenmaster. While not your typical artifact, these intelligent birds are an integral part of the tower's lore and charm.
4. The Medieval White Tower
Located within the White Tower is a beautiful chapel, known as St. John's Chapel. It's one of the finest surviving examples of Norman church architecture in the world. The chapel is relatively unadorned, in stark contrast to the grandeur of later English church interiors, but its simplicity adds to its serene beauty. While not an artifact in the traditional sense, it is a historically significant structure worth your time.
5. The Beauchamp Tower Graffiti
The Beauchamp Tower, used as a prison in the 16th and 17th centuries, contains fascinating artifacts of a different sort: graffiti. Not ordinary scribbles, but carefully etched inscriptions made by the prisoners once held there. Some inscriptions are simple names, while others are intricate designs featuring coats of arms and heartfelt poems. This graffiti provides a deeply personal and poignant glimpse into the experiences of those imprisoned in the tower.
Each of these five historical artifacts and attractions offers a different perspective on the history and heritage of the United Kingdom. A tour of the Tower of London provides an unparalleled journey into the past, from the grandeur of royal ceremonies to the intimate, human stories etched into the walls of its prison cells. No trip to London is complete without experiencing