The second day of our trip to London started where the first day left off: the Tower of London. Ok first we stopped for tea and avocado toast at Dan and DeCarlo, a local coffee joint right by the tube station.
The history of the Tower is long (almost a millennium long – which simply blows my mind) and complicated. The short version is that William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England and prolific castle builder, built it in the year 1066 as part of his conquest of the Anglo-Saxons in England. He used the already existing Roman wall as the start of his fortifications, and built on from there.
(Can we pause for a second here and take in the fact that this picture shows structures built in each of the first, second, and thirdmillenniums?! Ok now let's continue.)
Tower Hill was expanded and upgraded over the years (and parts of it were torn down or destroyed, as well), and was used as a royal residence, zoo, mint, prison, armory, and so much more. It's been a paid tourist attraction since before the United States was a country!
First we stopped by an exhibit about the Royal Mint, which was located on Tower Hill in the late 1200's and continued to be an active mint until the 1800's, when a new one was built across the street. (Today the minting of Britain's coins is done in Wales.) The exhibit itself covered all topics, ranging from minting technology (including a fairly lengthy section about alchemists smelting precious metals from ores) to stories of various forgeries, frauds, and robberies. As a numismatist, I was so enthralled that I forgot to take more than two pictures.
The first recorded prisoner was held at the tower in 1100 when Bishop Ranulf Flambard was held there on charges of embezzlement (he escaped, making him both the first prisoner and the first person to escape). From there various buildings were used as to hold prisoners (despite the cliches of being a torture chamber, most prisoners were political prisoners held in very likely one of the nicest prisons they could ask for) all the way up until the last prisoner in 1941: Adolph Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess. Along the way, a few of them literally left their marks.
Easily one of the most fascinating exhibits to me was about the Royal Menagerie. Many exotic animals were kept at the tower from at least the early 1200's up through 1832. Lions were a popular staple, but various kings and queens also kept snakes, monkeys, eagles, hyenas, bears, and even an African elephant! After 600 years for some reason the keepers couldn't stop the animals from biting people so they moved them all to the Royal Zoo.