Today was the Tower of London. It was full of history as you’d expect, complete with some really odd parts. As our tour guide proudly informed us, not just anyone can take you around this particular historic site: to be a tour guide, one must complete over 20 years of unblemished service in the British military. Our old soldier did a good job showing us around, mixing in dry humor with explanations of sights. Ravens 2-3 times as big as you’d think a raven should be roamed with signs proclaiming “Ravens may bite!” Our guide explained that they’re fed meat and are the same type of bird that have been around the tower for hundreds of years. Their current diet’s definitely better than the old one of corpses that were thrown from the Tower’s cells into the River Thames… definitely didn’t get anywhere near these scary birds. I liked how the English of centuries ago managed to display their torture devices without receiving blame for them: items were placed in a museum and said to have been stolen from Spanish ships, even though they were fresh from use in English prisons. The crown jewels were obscenely expensive-looking, embossed with ridiculously many diamonds. I liked the English solution to tourists gaping at the fanciest of the jewels for too long: a moving sidewalk ensures that stunned sightseers don’t cause too much congestion.
Seeing the tower and its gaudy towers raises a lot of questions. Why keep a monument to kings like Louis VII having such power that they could just kill their innocent wives? Why not sell even just one of the crown jewels, generating enough money to finance hundreds if not thousands of college scholarships? Why is a chopping block on which countless innocents lost their heads on display in a museum and not something hidden out of a national sense of shame? My guess is simply that it’s history. Regardless of how corrupt kings were and what travesties the past holds, it’s still something people are proud of, having played an important role in shaping the England of today. Besides, artifacts with bloody stories behind them are a great way to get tourists to spend wads of cash at your 3 different gift shops.