Tower Of London Map P

@ 7709 0765; www.hrp.org.uk; Tower Hill EG; adult/5-15yr/senior & student/family £16/9.50/13/45; S 9am-6pm Tue-Sat,10am-6pm Sun & Mon Mar-Oct, 9am-5pm Tue-Sat, 10am-5pm Sun &Mon Nov-Feb, last admission on all days 1hr before closing time; -e-Tower Hill; ® The absolute kernel of London with a history as bleak and bloody as it is fascinating, the Tower of London should be first on anyone's list of London's sights. Despite ever-growing ticket prices and the hoards of tourists that descend here in the summer months, this is one of those rare pleasures: somewhere worth the hype. Throughout the ages, murder and political skulduggery have reigned as much as kings and queens, so tales of imprisonment and executions will pepper your trail.

The Tower is in fact a castle, and not towerlike at all (although in the Middle Ages it's easy to imagine how the White Tower would have dwarfed the huts of the peasantry surrounding the castle walls) and has been the property (and sometime London residence) of the monarch since it was begun during the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-87). By far the best preserved medieval castle in London, it's one of the capital's four Unesco World Heritage sites (the others are Westminster Abbey, Kew Gardens and Maritime Greenwich), and will fascinate anyone with any interest at all in history, the monarchy and warfare.

With more than two million visitors a year, crowds are quite serious in the high season and it's best to buy a ticket in advance as well as to visit later in the day. You can buy Tower tickets online, or at any tube station up to a week beforehand, which can save you a long time when you arrive. Also, after 3pm the groups have usually left and the place is a lot more pleasant to stroll around. During the winter months it's far less crowded, so there's no need to do either of the preceding.

Your best bet is to start with a free hour-long tour given by the Yeoman Warders, which are a great way to bring the various parts of the tower to life. The Yeoman Warders have been guarding the tower since 1485, and have all served a minimum of 22 years in the British Armed

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Forces. Known affectionately as 'beefeaters' by the public (due to the large rations of beef given to them in the past), there are 35 Yeoman Warders today, including Moira Cameron, the first ever female beefeater, who began serving in 2007. While officially they guard the tower and Crown Jewels at night, their role is as tour guides (and to pose for photographs with curious foreigners). These tours leave from the Middle Tower every 30 minutes from 9.30am (10am on Sunday) to 3.30pm (2.30pm in winter) daily. The warders also conduct about eight different short talks (35 minutes) and tours (45 minutes) on specific themes. The first is at 9.30am Monday to Saturday (10.15am on Sunday in summer, 11,30am in winter), the last at 5.15pm (3pm in winter). Less theatrical are the self-paced audioguides available in five languages for £3 from the information point on Water Lane.

You enter the tower via the West Gate and proceed across the walkway over the dry moat between the Middle Tower and Byward Tower. The original moat was finally drained of centuries of festering sewage in the 19th century, necessitated by persistent cholera outbreaks, and a superbly manicured lawn now surrounds the Tower. Before you stands the Bell Tower, housing the tower's curfew bells and one-time home to Thomas More. The politician and author of Utopia was imprisoned here in 1534 before his execution for refusing to recognise King Henry VIII as the new head of the Church of England in place of the Pope. To your left are the casements of the former Royal Mint, which was moved from this site to new buildings northeast of the castle in 1812.

Continuing past the Bell Tower along Water Lane between the walls you come to the famous Traitors' Gate, the gateway through which prisoners being brought by river entered the tower. Above the gate, rooms inside St Thomas's Tower show what the hall and bedchamber of Edward I (1272-1307) might once have looked like. Here also archaeologists have peeled back the layers of newer buildings to find what went before. Opposite St Thomas's Tower is Wakefield Tower, built by Henry III between 1220 and 1240. Its upper floor is actually entered via St Thomas's Tower and has been even more enticingly furnished with a replica throne and huge candelabra to give an impression of how, as an anteroom in a medieval palace, it might have looked in Edward I's day. During the 15th-century War of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster and York, Henry VI was almost certainly murdered in this tower.

Below, in the basement of Wakefield Tower, there's a Torture at the Tower exhibition. However, torture wasn't practised as much in England as it was on the Continent apparently, and the display is pretty perfunctory, limiting itself to a rack, a pair of manacles and an instrument for keeping prisoners doubled up called a Scavenger's Daughter. Frankly, you'd see scarier gear at any London S&M club (or, the London Dungeon across the river in London Bridge, see p132). To get to this exhibition and the basement level of Wakefield Tower, you enter the tower courtyard through the arch opposite Traitors' Gate.

As you do so, you'll also see at the centre of the courtyard the Norman White Tower with a turret on each of its four corners and a golden weather vane spinning atop each. This tower has a couple of remnants of Norman architecture, including a fireplace and garderobe (lavatory). However, most of its interior is given over to a collection of cannons, guns and suits of armour for men and horses, which come from the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Among the most remarkable exhibits are the 2m suit of armour made for John of Gaunt (to see that coming towards you on a battlefield must have been terrifying) and alongside it a tiny child's suit of armour designed for James I's young son Henry. Another unmissable suit is that of Henry VIII, almost square-shaped to match the monarch's body by his 40s, and featuring what must have been the most impressive posing pouch in the kingdom.

The stretch of green between the Wakefield and White Towers is where the Tower's famous ravens are found. Opposite Wakefield Tower and the White Tower is the Bloody Tower, with an exhibition on Elizabethan adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh, who was imprisoned here three times by the capricious Elizabeth I, most significantly from 1605 to 1616.

The Bloody Tower acquired its nickname from the story that the 'princes in the tower', Edward V and his younger brother, were murdered here to annul their claims to the throne. The blame is usually laid at the door of their uncle Richard III, although

Henry VII might also have been responsible for the crime.

Beside the Bloody Tower sits a collection of black-and-white half-timbered Tudor houses that are home to Tower of London staff. The Queen's House, where Anne Boleyn lived out her final days in 1536, now houses the resident governor and is closed to the public.

North of the Queen's House, across Tower Green, is the scaffold site, where seven people were executed by beheading in Tudor times: two of Henry Vlll's six wives, the alleged adulterers Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard; the latter's lady-in-waiting, Jane Rochford; Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, descended from the House of York; 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey, who fell foul of Henry's daughter Mary I by being her rival for the throne; William, Lord Hastings; and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, once a favourite of Elizabeth I.

These people were executed within the tower precincts largely to spare the monarch the embarrassment of the usual public execution on Tower Hill, an event that was usually attended by thousands of spectators. In the case of Robert Devereux, the authorities perhaps also feared a popular uprising in his support.

Behind the scaffold site is the Beauchamp Tower, where high-ranking prisoners including Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were jailed and where unhappy inscriptions from the condemned are on display today.

Behind the scaffold site lies the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains), a rare example of ecclesiastical Tudor architecture and the burial place of those beheaded on the scaffold outside or at nearby Tower Hill. Unfortunately, it can only be visited on a group tour or after 4.30pm, so if you aren't already part of a group hang around until one shows up and then tag along. Alternatively, attend a service, which takes place at 9am on Sunday.

To the east of the chapel and north of the White Tower is the building that visitors most want to see: Waterloo Barracks, the home of the Crown Jewels. You file past footage of Queen Elizabeth ll's coronation backed by stirring patriotic music before you reach the vault itself (check out the doors as you go in - they look like they'd survive a nuclear attack). Once inside you'll be confronted with ornate sceptres, plates, orbs and, naturally, crowns. A very slow-moving travelator takes you past the dozen or so crowns that are the centrepiece, including the £27.5 million Imperial State Crown, set with diamonds (2868 of them to be exact), sapphires, emeralds, rubies and pearls, and the platinum crown of the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth, which is famously set with the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light) diamond. Surrounded by myth and legend, the 14th-century diamond has been claimed by both India and Afghanistan. It reputedly confers enormous power on its owner, but male owners are destined to die a tormented death.

Behind the Waterloo Barracks is the newly opened Bowyer Tower, where George, Duke of Clarence, brother and rival of Edward IV, was imprisoned, and, according to a long-standing legend that has never been proved, was drowned in a barrel of Malmsey (sweet Madeira wine).

The Fusiliers Museum to the east of Waterloo Barracks is run by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who charge a separate nominal entrance fee. This museum covers the history of the Royal Fusiliers dating back to 1685, and has models of several battles. A 10-minute video gives details of the modern regiment.

The redbrick New Armouries in the southeastern corner of the inner courtyard houses the New Armouries Café where you can grab a pricey sandwich or soup lunch.

There are plenty of other attractions, as well as churches, shops and toilets within the tower complex, but before you leave you should also walk along the inner ramparts. This Wall Walk begins with the 13th-century Salt Tower, probably used to store saltpetre for gunpowder, and takes in Broad Arrow Tower, which houses an exhibit about the gunpowder plotters imprisoned here, many of their original inscriptions having been discovered on the walls. The walk ends at the Martin Tower, which houses an exhibition about the original coronation regalia. Here you can see some of the older crowns, which have had their jewels removed. The oldest surviving crown is that of George I, which is topped with the ball and cross from James ll's crown. It was from the Martin Tower that Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels in 1671, disguised as a clergyman.

Finally for those interested in the obscure ritual and ceremony of the British monarchy, the Key Ceremony takes place every evening at 9.30pm. This elaborate locking of the main gates makes the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace look like a recently invented tourist trick - the guards have been performing the ceremony every day unbroken for more than 600 years. Even when a bomb hit the Tower of London during the Blitz, the ceremony was delayed by just 30 minutes, which as everyone agrees is the essence of the famed stiff upper lip. Entry to the ceremony is free, but in a suitably antiquated style you have to apply for tickets by post as demand is so high. See the website for details.

There is limited disabled access to the tower. Call ahead for more information.

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