Tower of London -one of the London's most iconic buildings

Tower of London an amazing history.
, ravens and a gruesome history – no wonder the Tower of London is one of the capital’s most iconic buildings, attracting more than two million visitors a year. But its role as a tourist attraction dates only from the Victorian era. Before that, it served as a fortress, a royal residence, a home for the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels, a storehouse for military paraphernalia and weapons and, of course, a notorious prison.

From the outset, the Tower was designed to invoke fear and awe. Over 27m tall and built from luminous Caen stone, William the Conqueror’s White Tower must have looked alien and forbidding to the newly-defeated English – who were forced to build it in the 1070s. William’s successors – most notably Henry III and his son Edward I - extended and strengthened the fortress throughout the Medieval period. By 1350 the Tower had taken on the impressive form we know today, complete with daunting defences, royal accommodation, a major branch of the Royal Mint and even an exotic menagerie with lions.

In 1483, 12-year-old Prince Edward and his younger brother Richard - The Princes in the Tower - were imprisoned by their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III). They were never seen again. In the 1930s, two skeletons found buried beneath a staircase in the 1600s were attributed to the - probably murdered - princes. 

But it was during the Tudor period that the Tower entered the bloodiest period of its history. Its cells and torture chambers were rarely empty of political and religious prisoners in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s revolutionary break from the authority of the Pope in Rome.

Those imprisoned at his Majesty’s pleasure included politician Sir Thomas More (1534), Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn (1546), and Protestant reformer Anne Askew (1546). More was beheaded after refusing to accept Henry as head of the new Church of England. Boleyn fell out of favor after failing to produce a male heir and, accused of incest and adultery, was beheaded within the Tower’s walls. While the unfortunate Askew was so weak from torture on the rack for failing to implicate Queen Katherine Parr and her ladies as heretics, that she had to be carried in a chair to the stake where she was to be burned.

At almost every stage since in London’s history, the Tower has had a starring role. In 1605, it played bleak host to Guy Fawkes after the disastrous plot to blow up Parliament. It was an important pawn in the Civil War. After the Restoration, it became a permanent home to the new Crown Jewels. Even during the two World Wars, the Tower played its part. It survived a direct hit during the Blitz, while the filled-in moat was used for growing fruit and vegetables. Several spies were also held and executed there: in 1941, German Josef Jakobs became the last person to be executed within the Tower’s walls.

Today, the prisoners, the mint, the menagerie and the jewels are all gone. Fortunately, the ravens remain – since legend has it that if they should leave, the Tower and the kingdom will fall For millions of visitors, Buckingham Palace – official residence of the Royal Family and backdrop for the Changing of the Guard – is one of the iconic sights of London. But the building so familiar to us today is the product of many years’ extending and remodeling, with varying degrees of success.

The original building was far more modest. Built as a private townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, Buckingham House was bought by George III in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a cozy family home. Work on remodeling the re-named Queen’s House began in 1762 under Sir William Chambers, at a cost of £73,000.

The decision to upgrade from a house to a palace came a little later, when George III was succeeded by his son, the famously extravagant George IV. In 1826, he persuaded Parliament to stretch the agreed renovation budget from £150,000 to £450,000 and appointed architect John Nash to create a palace fit for a king.

Nash demolished the north and south wings and rebuilt them on a larger scale around a courtyard, complete with an impressive marble arch (the Marble Arch that now stands at Hyde Park corner). The project was a PR disaster. By 1829, the costs had crept up to half a million pounds, and Nash found himself out of a job.

All that remains of Nash’s work is the suite of state and semi-state rooms he added to the west-facing garden side of the old main block.

In fact, the Palace was unoccupied until Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. The new queen soon discovered that the opulent interiors masked some serious shortcomings. The chimneys smoked so badly that the fires couldn’t be lit, leaving residents freezing. Ventilation was so poor that the rooms smelled musty and there were fears that installing gas lighting would risk blowing up the entire ground floor! There was also a serious lack of nurseries and visitor bedrooms. Architect Edmund Blore solved that problem by adding an attic floor along with a new wing – the East Front, which includes the balcony famously used by the Royal Family for public appearances.

Pollution soon took its toll on Blore’s façade and in 1913 it was replaced with a tough Portland Stone frontage, designed by Sir Aston Webb. Work was completed just before the outbreak of the Great War.

The Palace’s last phase of remodeling was less intentional: it was bombed no less than seven times. Most famously, a direct hit destroyed the chapel in 1940.

The Palace today is still very much a working building. It has 775 rooms: including 19 state rooms, 240 bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. Over 50,000 guests a year pass through its doors for royal ceremonies, state visits, investitures and garden parties. Day-to-day, it functions as offices for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s personal staff. And, of
course, during the summer months the State Rooms are one of London’s hottest tourist attractions.