Sunday, 29 January 2012

Beefeaters and beheadings

If there is one historical site you visit in London, make sure it is the Tower of London. The most enjoyable day I had visiting such a place so far!

The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the 1070s after he invaded and defeated the English and became their new king. The White tower in the centre of the complex was the original building, given its name because the stone walls were white-washed to give a more imposing look. Over the next couple of hundred years the tower fortifications were expanded by medieval kings.

The tower's history is chock full of murder, power-hungry royals, beheadings and hangings. Never have I seen so much drama within one place outside the TV when grey's anatomy is on. And the thing that I loved most about the place was that, despite all the deaths and sinister goings on, the tour guides and visual displays somehow seemed to make the history almost relatable, as strange as that sounds. The exhibits weren't just dry bits of information but rather an insight into the lives of the royals, peasants and prisoners alike.

Most enjoyable was one of the beefeater tours which are operated all day by current Yeoman Warders (nicknamed, for uncertain reasons, 'beefeaters'). The beefeaters themselves are impressive when you consider the qualifications needed to even apply for the job include 20-odd years in Her Majesty's military service along with reaching certain ranks and receiving certain awards while in that service. So it's not easy to become one! Their job is to guard the tower and whatever may be residing inside, whether it is prisoners, royalty or the crown jewels which are on display there today. They still participate in many of the rituals from past times. The warder that took our tour had an amazing store of information about the tower's history and present and past yeoman warders. The tour run within the white tower by a staff member was equally as riveting, as he explained the daily uses of many rooms - including a medieval toilet chamber. I think it was those personal touches that separates the tour of London from many other historical attractions.

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