Castles are the iconic fortified structure of the Middle Ages, and today they remain historic symbols of power, wealth, and military might.
Many exceptional examples of medieval castles exist throughout Europe, but England is famous for its castles for good reason, as it is home to some of the finest.
The use of castles as a military fortification has waned in the modern age. Today's weapons, tactics, and new technology have largely made them redundant from their political and battlefield roles, but a castle can still be part of modern life. The castles that have endured the test of time have become examples that can teach us about the history and architecture of their age.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London was built almost a thousand years ago in the 1070s by William the Conqueror, as a symbol of the new military power of the age. The modern castle began as the White Tower, which is the square keep in the middle of the site today. It was named after Edward I began whitewashing the building in 1240. Over the next three centuries, successive monarchs expanded the castle by adding new defensive features like concentric curtain walls and new towers.
No enemy military force has ever taken the Tower. In fact, the only time the Tower was ever occupied by a hostile force was during the Peasants Revolt of 1381. The Tower of London has been a statement over London’s city skyline for centuries and has always been more than a simple fortress. The castle was used as a prison for over 800 years, with the unluckiest inmates finding their way to Tower Hill next door for public execution. Fortunately, these stopped in 1780.
Not only is the Tower still standing after a thousand years, but it is also still in regular use today as a thriving tourist attraction. The castle performs the traditional and essential role of protecting the Crown-quite literally, having been the home of England’s Crown Jewels since 1994.
Even though London has been built up around it and modern skyscrapers now dwarf the ancient structure, the Tower of London stands proud. UNESCO awarded the castle world heritage status in 1988, and it continues to be a part of modern life in the capital.