Monday, December 23, 2013

london calling: day one, the tower of london

day one was cloudy & gray, but luckily the rain held off most of the time. we were able to do everything we wanted before the rain started up about 8 pm or so. 

the tower of london is on the bank of the thames, so if you visit it you can kind of kill three birds with one stone: you can see the tower bridge, the thames, and the tower all at one time. kind of convenient. anyway, the white tower was built in 1078 (painted white to inspire fear in enemies, traitors, & prisoners). hundreds of people were beheaded on the hill in front of the tower in front of hearty crowds, & several "important" prisoners (like henry viii's second wife anne boleyn) were beheaded within the walls of the tower in front of a small audience. in underground dungeons many people were tortured, being stretched out on the racks & stuff. two small princes & heirs to the throne (they were about 8 & 10 years old, or something) were imprisoned in what is now called "the bloody tower," & mysteriously disappeared around the time of richard iii. it is believed they were murdered. long story short-ish, a lot of grisly, bloody things have happened within the walls of the tower.....so naturally a must-see!!!!!!1!!1!




in the picture below, i'm getting some fashion tips from a yeoman warder, or "beefeater" as they're more commonly known. i just, that name, i just can't even. it's pretty yikes. but anyway, originally beefeaters were meant to guard any prisoners in the tower as well as the crown jewels. today they're mostly tour guides & a tourist attraction (except for, you know, guarding the occasional tower of london prisoner. just kidding. :) while we were taking this picture, we chatted about new york city (he's never been there - but he has been to arizona!) & i desperately wanted to ask if i could touch the decal on his outfit or hat but i refrained. please pause to appreciate my sacrifice.


the tower of london, the scene of heinous & gory beheadings, underground torture, (often) illegal beheading of royalty......& an ice-skating rink!!!1!!1


a different beefeater than the one with me in the photo above guided us on our tour. it was funny - he spoke with a thick scottish accent, very loudly & very, very quickly, & at times we could not understand him at all. he'd say something that seemed important & we'd kind of whisper to each other, "oops...did you catch what he said??" this happened often. neverthess. still a fabulous outfit.




during one stop on the tour, a group of soldiers came marching quickly through the tunnel towards us. their feet were clacking on the cobblestone, & our tour group kind of started to shuffle as they came closer, when suddenly one of them yelled REALLY loud, quite angrily, & REALLY intensely, "MAKE WAY!!1!!1" people started running & scattering everywhere because these guys were not slowing down. at all. afterwards we wondered, what if people hadn't gotten out of the way by the time the soldiers passed us by? would they have just been run over? we're thinking that very possibly could have happened.


everyone was kind of like, "whoa. okay. calm down." it was weird.


there they go.


& then, before we knew it, like within the next five minutes, they were coming back. our little tour group wasn't about to make the same mistake twice: well before these guys were ever close to passing by, a wide, wide pathway was made for them to pass safely through. i'm sure there was just this huge emergency happening somewhere within the tower, because it's still a working tower with high-security prisoners & there was probably a riot or a the great escape type outbreak attempt happening. & that's why the soldiers just needed to run to get there fast.




hundreds of years old...still a little bit scary to stand under:




so prisoners and traitors would be guided out of the tower and up the hill in front of it a little way, at which time, our tour guide said, "their head would be separated from their body, hopefully with only one chop of the axe, but sometimes more strokes were need." eek. anyway, a lot of times they would take the head, stab a tall spike through it, & mount it on a bridge at an entryway to london. apparently they would dip the head in tar to protect it from the elements, & do all this as a warning that YOU DON'T MAKE LONDON MAD or some such intensity. so basically, imagine that you crossing a bridge to london & look up & see this row of severed heads like birds on a wire. crazy, right?


the building below houses the crown jewels. as you can see, it's guarded by several of those same ragey soldiers who yelled at a group of tourists that had forked over some serious poundage just to take a peek around the tower.


the crown jewels! how magical. we loved it. so the crown jewels are official property of the british monarchy, meaning they can never leave the country (they've made entirely new crowns for royalty to wear in the past when they've visited india & other countries) & always have to be protected, & everything (even though that hasn't always happened - the crown jewels have a history of getting "lost," stolen etc). we walked through room after room of crowns made of emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, the First Star of Africa (which is the largest flawless cut diamond in the world), sumptuous red & purple velvet, jeweled scepters, pure gold dishware & orbs - just on & on & on. many of the crown jewels have been used since the 1300s or earlier - we saw the crown, orb, & scepter used in queen elizabeth ii's coronation in 1953 (& that have been used in many, many coronations before it). it's interesting - one of the purposes of the crown jewels is simply to display the wealth & power of the british monarchy. seriously, it's like a "our stuff is better than your stuff" sort of thing. so interesting!

i wish we could have taken pictures inside. i should have snuck some :) you can read more about the crown jewels HERE, HERE, & HERE. the coronation ceremony of the british monarch is invested with all these traditional, mystical, symbolic elements, & it's all incredibly tied up with religious initiation rites - we were fascinated to learn more about it. can read more on its wikipedia page, if you trust that sort of thing.


another interesting thing to find in the tower of london - there is a yard full of large, black ravens. legend says that if these ravens ever leave the tower as their home, that's a sign that the british monarchy will soon collapse...all the ravens on the property have had part of their wings clipped so they can never fly away. i guess that's the best kind of insurance? :) / :/




lights on the tower bridge shining as the sun went down. pretty, right?


it is my personal belief that the white tower became even more intimidating as it got darker.



& on that note, one more thing: cold, cold, so cold. :) the end!!1

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