The man with the job of protecting the most famous parking lot in the world was having a busy day a couple of weeks ago. “Sorry, guys," Jake Jones said as the latest in a steady stream of onlookers tried to walk through the gates. “You’ll have to wait for the guided tour."
Local parking lots like this one on New Street in Leicester, England, rarely receive such attention. But then, no others can claim to have been the resting place of a king of England for the past 527 years.
Since Feb. 4, when researchers from the University of Leicester announced that a skeleton found during an archaeological dig at the parking lot in September 2012 was indeed that of Richard III, a monarch immortalized by Shakespeare, Jones has been fending off hundreds of curious visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the deep trench where the skeleton was found. (It is just visible from the gates, toward the far end of the parking lot, and is covered with a white tent.)
While Jones may have been caught off guard by the crowds, Leicester, a former manufacturing town of red brick terraced houses and hosiery factories about two hours from London, is welcoming the onslaught, hoping that after taking in a guided tour that stops at the parking lot, people will stick around for other tourist attractions that have swiftly sprung up.
The 14th-century Guildhall building (011-44-116-253-2569; leicester.gov.uk/museums) has become the center of activity. In addition to selling tickets for the tour, it also opened an exhibition called “Leicester’s Search for a King" four days after the announcement of the bones’ origins. The small but impressive show provides a step-by-step guide to both the archaeology and the science behind the identification of the skeleton, using videos featuring scientists involved in the discovery, and displays replicas of the remains.
“The world’s gaze is drawn to Leicester at the moment," said Laura Hadland, senior curator of the show. She should know. More than 1,000 people showed up for the exhibition on its opening day, she said, and the weekend afterward, locals, visitors from other parts of Britain and journalists, all buzzing with excited chatter about the find, stood in a line that never seemed to shrink.
Visitors seeking a primer on Richard III (and slightly shorter lines) can venture out to a field just outside town that was the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard III was killed. A visitors’ center there (Sutton Cheney; 011-44-1455-290429; 7.95 pounds, or $12 at $1.52 to the pound; bosworthbattlefield.com) was restored in 2009, after archaeologists uncovered finds that at the time seemed earth-shattering, including a white boar livery badge that would have been worn by a member of Richard’s close circle in the battle.
Within the town of Leicester itself, plans are under way for a permanent center devoted to Richard. But for now, the tourist board has created a self-guided walking tour around sites connected to Richard. Maps are available at the Visit Leicester tourist information center (51 Gallowtree Gate; 011-44-116-299-4444; visitleicester.info)