The Tower of London & the Ceremony of the Keys
The Tower of London is right next to the Tower Bridge, so if you are planning a trip to London it’s easy to plan the two attractions together. The Tower of London is a castle and fortress in London that has been in London since 1066. There is a giant wall surrounding the fortress, and a place where you can see there would have been a moat. The fortress was used for numerous things throughout history, but most interestingly it was a prison, and several people were beheaded there.
The Tower of London has a creepy feel to it, especially because it was used for prison and beheadings. There are attractions in the different buildings of the fortress, and many of them focus on this gory history behind the tower.
In one exhibit is the actual gun and chair used for the last-ever execution that they had there. It is spooky to see it up close! In another exhibit in the aptly named “Bloody Tower” there are replica of torture devices. Eeerie!
To add to the creepy feeling to the place, there are giant ravens everywhere. They are very socialized and aren’t afraid to caw in people’s faces. They are much bigger than any raven I’ve ever seen, and the place is already so eerie, I was not into them! They kept specifically hanging out at the glass plaque area where Anne Boleyn was beheaded, along with other people throughout history.
The best part of the Tower of London, however, is that the Crown Jewels were there!! Unfortunately for my readers, you are not allowed to take pictures of the Crown Jewels. In New York I am not afraid to sneak a photo (or several) behind a guard’s back (ahemAlexanderMcQueenexhibit) but in London my friend and I were deathly afraid of all of the security. In Westminster Abbey my friend got yelled at for taking a photo, and the guy really got up in his face. No thank you!
In any event, the Crown Jewels include the crowns, scepters, and orbs of the Kings and Queens of England. It is amazing! A nice feature of the exhibit is that in front of the cases of crowns is a rolling walkway, so that you get your two minutes up close in front of the Jewels, and then you move along! It keeps you from being pressed up against the case by Japanese tourists (which has happened to me, BTW).
An interesting piece of trivia is that the building that the Crown Jewels are in are huge giant blocks of stone, and the little plexi glass boxes that the Crown Jewels are in are meant to withstand the entire building caving in!
I learned this fun fact at the Ceremony of the Keys, which I am SO SO sorry, I also couldn’t take pictures of!! I need to tell you about it though, because if you ever go to London, you MUST check it out! It occurs at night, so we returned to the Tower of London later that evening to see it!
I read about the Ceremony of the Keys in a Rick Steve’s guidebook. Luckily, I read about it right in time because you have to hand-write your request for tickets 2-3 months in advance. You have to write the names of the people you wish to get tickets for, the date you want a ticket for and a back up date, as well as include a self-addressed stamped envelope, with international vouchers for them to mail them back to you. It’s honestly kind of an ordeal, but it makes you feel very exclusive! As my friend mentioned, it also ensures that anyone there to witness the event is there because they really want to be there.
The Ceremony of the Keys has taken place every single night without fail since the 1200s. They have never NOT done the ceremony. The Ceremony takes place every night, at the same exact time, and was late only one time ever in history when the British were being bombed by the Germans in World War II. Basically the Ceremony is the locking of the fortress, so obviously they have to do it every night because they have to lock the fortress no matter what! This is why security is very tight, and they are very clear that if you show up late there is no way in hell you are getting in.
The entire thing is so cool! The tour guide is very cool and hilarious, despite the somewhat seriousness of the event. He is in charge of taking the warden with the keys and many guards to lock the door, and then another guard comes up from the rear and confronts them, saying “Who goes there?” It is so cool, and ancient, and it ends with a bugle. If you get the chance you should most CERTAINLY request tickets. I wish I could have taken pictures, although the mystery of the event is half the fun!