In the best traditions of international one-upmanship, I present to you the Plaza of the Four Cultures. Technically speaking there is no plaza here, but there’s a few spots which could qualify as low rent substitutes. But nonetheless, there are four evident and very seperate cultures easily identifiable from the architecture they’ve left behind. Take that Mexico, and your trifling Plaza de las Tres Culturas.
Sadly, it’s tricky to get a good shot of all four cultures in the same shot without really going to work on a Panorama. And whilst it is possible to get all four in the shot, one of them will always be mostly hidden from view. The oldest of the cultures belongs to the Romans, who left a pretty solidly built wall that once protected Londinium.
Then, nearly a thousand years ago, William the Conqueror (aka William the Bastard) introduced what would be one of the most influential cultures in the creation of modern Britain – the Normans. And the Tower of London was left as their gift to 21st century London tourists.
During the height of the British Empire, Victorian era engineers built the wonderful Tower Bridge. That’s the bridge that many (perhaps most) foreign visitors assume is London Bridge. The fourth culture? That’s our current culture. Take your pick, but with the Shard towering over the skyline as it does, that’s my choice.
But back to the Tower of London. Mrs P and I parted with £20 each to visit the Tower at the weekend. Money well spent? Well, depends how much money you’ve got to spare, doesn’t it? For historical content and history, only Westminster Cathedral is even a competitor. But personally, if I were to be asked to name the top five ‘must-see paid-for’ attractions in London, the Tower of London wouldn’t be in the list.
It is impressive, and you should see it, at least from the outside. But unless you’ve really got a thing for diamonds, or absolutely must have your photo taken with a beefeater, you can probably give the interior a miss. Fact is, the most impressive view is from the outside. And the crowds on the inside are such, and the view over the parapets so covered in glass and metal skyscrapers, that I found it hard to let my imagination run.
It was hard to soak in the historical atmosphere. I just couldn’t picture Anne Boleyn having her head chopped off. Or German spies (actually, I think it was just one) being executed by firing squad in WW2. Or even the Rudolph Hess or the Krays being briefly incarcerated there. The interior of the Tower almost has more of an amusement park atmosphere than it does that of an ancient and historical monument .
Most disappointing, for me, was the ban on photography in the Crown Jewels exhibition. It was once allowed. I took a whole bunch of snaps when I last visited in 2005. The new policy makes it even more irking that I lost all of those photos. Still, aside from the Crown Jewels, I did grab loads of photos. Many on Instagram but a few on Flickr too.