Monday, September 30, 2013

Before and After Death - The Tower and The Cathedral

For my first day in London, I decided to do the two things I wanted to see the most - The Tower of London (never been) and St. Paul's Cathedral (have been but don't remember.)

Successfully commuting in from Cambridge to King's Cross and then taking the Tube (once an urbanite, always an urbanite), I arrived at the Tower of London on a brightly sunny and gorgeous day, contrasting to the morbid history of the site I was on. I arrived just in time to catch a tour by a Yeoman Warder, aka Beefeater. Of the many things told but what I found most fascinating is the change in tower architecture for defensive towers. Before the Crusades, towers were square. After the Crusades, they were round. 

The Tower also has the only surviving medieval palace in Britain, dating back to the 1200s, which stands in the wall above Traitor's Gate. Prisoners were brought o the Tower through the Gate, two of which were quite famous and queens - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. 

Speaking of Anne Boleyn, I stood where she, and many others, lost their heads, which was quite powerful. Moving on to see where she spent her time before her death, I made my way through the White Tower. It currently houses the Royal Armory, and does not show many signs to the fact that the White Tower used to be the prison and execution site. Other "guests" of the White Tower were Sir Thomas More, Lady Jane Grey, and most famously, Princes Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, also known as the Princes in the Tower, who disappeared and were said to have been either killed by their Uncle Richard or were spirited away to Ireland...Digression...There were two small skeletons found behind a staircase in the White Tower during Charles II's reign. It is thought that these may be the remains of the Princes, which are now interred at Westminster Abbey.  Now that Richard III's remains were discovered and confirmed last year in Leicester, these skeletons will be tested for DNA and compared to Richard III's for confirmation if the tower skeletons are related to Richard, thus proving them to be his nephews. A 540ish mystery may come to an end.

What was quite striking was the vastness of the complex and various architectural styles represented, from Saxon to Norman all the way up to Georgian, as seen in the Hospital buildings and houses. (Evidently, according to my Beefeater tour guide, there are still people who live with their families at the Tower.)

Taking the opportunity to walk, I found my way from the Tower west to St. Paul's Cathedral. Not able to take pictures of the interior, I am not able to describe the awesomeness of the gilded and colorful altars or ceilings. The crypt holds the remains of many famous people. I accidentally walked on Joshua Reynolds and JMW Turner and saw the monuments to Robert Hooke, William Blake, Alexander Fleming, and Lord Nelson. The coffin that Nelson is buried in was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, but when he fell of favor with Henry VIII, he did not receive such a stately burial. The coffin was put into storage for about two hundred years until it was used for Nelson when he died at the Battle of Trafalgar. 

Taking advantage of the perfect weather, I climbed to the Golden Gallery on the top of Wren's great Dome - 550+ steps. And it was worth it for the panoramic views of the London, and the melding of historic architecture and newly modern developments like the Shard.

Photos from the day can be found here

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