Travel - Locations
By: - at October 24, 2013

Top 15 Famous Palaces in the World

Herrenchiemsee Hall in the Palace of Versailles, France

Palaces have long been used to demonstrate national wealth and achievement. They furthered the political foundations of dynasties, ruling powers and royal families. This has left the world with a number of these phenomenal sprawling structures that have been used for every purpose imaginable, such as: churches, military forts, museums, entertaining foreign diplomats, imprisoning political opponents and innovating societies. You may think of palaces as being relics from the earliest centuries but they have continued to be built into the 20th century. Most started as castles, religious buildings or other structures and were transformed by a royal ruler.

Nearly every country in the world has one palace that was used at a time for a ruling family or political party. The architecture found inside, in addition to works of art, are a snapshot of the country’s history. Palaces showcase the height of wealth, whether a country is poor or wealthy, and are fascinating examples of how royalty as well as their attendants lived.

15)  Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
The construction of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul began in the mid-15th century by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror (1432-1481) and he resided there until his death. The palace includes a private garden, a chamber for holy relics, a harem and four separated courts that each set a different mood but they are only open to certain members of society. The first court contains a Byzantine church from the sixth century named "Church of the divine peace" and is open to the general public. The Second Court was used for official business and contains a park like setting. The Third Court holds a wondrous gate known as "The Gate of Felicity", which leads to the Audience Chamber of the sultan and is sumptuously outfitted with pearl embroidered pillows. The Fourth Court is "The Domain of Pleasure Pavilions" and is occasionally referred to as the “Tulip Garden.” This section of the palace is connected to other buildings that hold a pool, stained glass windows and other richly decorated features.

The harem served as a center of royal family life where female slaves were purchased and installed in these quarters. There they would be instructed in Turkish culture and other entertaining arts such as dress, music, literary skills, embroidery as well as dance.

The palace was the primary royal residence for sultans and their attendants. It served as a central meeting place for official royal business and included separate chambers for doing so, essentially functioning as a city-state within its own walls.

Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace in Instanbul, Turkey

Church of Divine Peace
Hagia Irene Church is The Church of Divine Peace in Topkapi Palace

The Second Courtyard
The Second Court was used for official business and contains a park like setting.
By Gryffindor, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gate of Felicity
The Gate of Felicity is the third courtyard in Topkapi Palace
By Georges Jansoone, via Wikimedia Commons

Sultan's Audience Chamber
The Sultans audience chamber is in the third courtyard

The Domain of Pleasure Pavilions
The Domain of Pleasure Pavilions are in the fourth courtyard

Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror
Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror had Topkapi Palace built

14)  Mariyinsky Palace, Kiev, Ukraine
The Mariyinsky Palace is a Barouque style palace located in the capital city of  Kiev, Ukraine and was built by Russian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771) for Empress Elizaveta Petrovna (1707-1762). Construction began on the palace in 1744 and it remained as the primary residence of the royal family until the early 20th century. It has been reconstructed several times due to fire and other natural disasters, embellished with further detail each time. After World War II, the severe damage the building suffered required a dramatic restoration.

The palace is situated into the picturesque surroundings on the riverside of the Dnieper and has a pale blue exterior with beautiful gardens and pastel shades on the interior. It houses works of art by major Ukrainian artists and serves as a functioning museum. Chandeliers dot the vaulted ceilings and augment the splendor of the architecture.

The palace currently functions as a central meeting point for politicians, visitors and world leaders.

Front view of Mariyinsky Palace
Mariyinsky Palace is in Kiev, Ukraine
By Соловьйов Валерій, via Wikimedia Commons

Inside Mariyinsky Palace
Inside Mariyinsky Palace

Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli
Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli built Mariyinsky Palace

Empress Elizaveta Patrovna
Empress Elizaveta Petrovna commissioned Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli to build Mariyinsky Palace

13)  Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
The Iolani Palace was originally constructed in 1879 when Hawaii was still its own sovereign nation and wanted to mark itself as a modern country by building a palace. It was completed in the summer of 1882 when the royal family, King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani, entertained visitors; they made it their primary residence at the end of that same year. It was outfitted with modern conveniences, including electricity and indoor plumbing, reflecting the original intent to have the palace function as a symbol of the modernization of Hawaii.

However, there was criticism over the design of the palace with early newspaper critics describing the design as too ornate and over the top.

After the political overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893, the palace served as the capitol until being made an official state of the United States many decades later.

The palace is named for io, which is a Hawaiian type of hawk that represents the celestial and exalted. It’s located in the tropical city of Honolulu with a grand white facade and front lawn dotted with palm trees.

Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace is in Honolulu, Hawaii
By WPPilot, via Wikimedia Commons

King Kalakaua
King Kalakaua requested Iolani Palace be built

Queen Kapiolani
Queen Kapiolani requested Ionlani Palace be built

Io is a type of Hawaiian Hawk
By Kanalu Chock, via Wikimedia Commons

12)  Bahia Palace, Marrakesh, Morocco
Bahia Palace is located in Marrakesh, Morocco and was built in the 1860s but was embellished for years by Moroccan artists. The interior is decorated with woodwork, gilding and paint; in Moroccan the name means “beautiful” or “brilliant.”

The palace was home to Bou Ahmed (1840-1900), the grand vizier at the time and his family. It was ransacked but it still displays colorful decorations, such as:  mosaics, dramatic rounded doorways and gardens for shade. The whole structure has low sloping ceilings that give the entire architecture a sense of sweeping length rather than verticality and its wide courtyard is outfitted with colorful archways as well as paving stones.

Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace was built for Bou Ahmed

Interior court in Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace has an dramatic interior with mosaics

Oriental style hall inside Bahia Palace
The inside of Bahia Palace has oriental influences

11)  Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan
The Tokyo Imperial Palace in Japan is right at the center of the city of Tokyo and situated in a green park dotted with water as well as stones. Currently, it is the primary residence of the Imperial Family of Japan

The palace replaced Edo Castle where the shogun, the tradition of military governors that governed Japan, lived and ruled until 1867. After this system was overthrown, the Tokyo Imperial Palace was constructed and finished in 1888. It was destroyed in World War II but replicated in 1968 in an identical style.

The style of the palace is a mixture of elements that has two bridges named the Eyeglass Bridge and the Double Bridge which lead into the palatial grounds. The palace gardens include Kokoyo Gaien, the outer garden, Kokyo Higashi Gyoen, the east garden, and Kita-no-maru-koen Park; all of them contain a stunning array of flowers. Pieces of Edo Castle still remain with hints of the ancient stone walls and military outlooks that once made up on the site. The moan, called Chidori-ga-fuchi, is an excellent place to admire the seasonal cherry blossoms of which Japan is famous.

Inside, an art collection is exhibited and live cultural programming that features traditional Japanese dance as well as music is performed.

Tokyo Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is located in Tokyo

Throne Hall that was destroyed from WWII
Parts of the Imperial Palace were destroyed in WWII

Edo Castle
Edo Castle was replaced by the Tokyo Imperial Palace
By Reggaeman, via Wikimedia Commons

10)  La Casa Rosada, Buenos Aries, Argentina
La Casa Rosada, meaning the Pink House, is a bright pink palace originally constructed as a military fort in the late 16th century then became a palace in 1898. The palace retains many of its previous incarnations via walls at various thicknesses and it being supported by materials, such as:  brick, steel as well as wood. The original design included openings for skylights but only two remain to present day.

Situated on the Plaza de Mayo, the vivid pink building is a popular tourist spot for its colorful history and its hue. There are two theories for why the palace is pink:  it represented warring political parties that combined the opposing shades of white and red or the exterior was painted with cow’s blood that dried lighter in the sun. This conundrum has never been solved but it remains an eye catching feature in Buenos Aries.

The dramatic history also makes it an intriguing place; it served as the site that Eva Perón made her famous addresses as well as the announcement of Leopoldo Galtieri’s defeat in 1982 after a war with the United Kingdom. Currently, the president doesn’t reside in the palace but does work in the building.

La Casa Rosada
La Casa Rosada is located in Buenos Aries, Argentina

Eva Perón
Eva Perón made her famous speech in La Casa Rosada

Leopoldo Galtieri
Leopoldo Galtieri gave his speech of defeat in 1982 in La Casa Rosada
 By Carlos Bugge, via Wikimedia Commons

9)  Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid, Spain
The Royal Palace of Madrid is a neoclassical structure that was commissioned by Philip V of Spain (1683-1746) on the site of an old castle and was designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Battista Sacchetti (1690-1764). The structure exhibits an elaborate series of staircases and courtyards that include the Sabatini as well as the Campo del Moro Gardens. The palace and its gardens are enormous, occupying 32 acres.

Contrary to the name of the palace, it is not the official residence of the king of Spain. That honor goes to the Zarzuela Palace, which isn't in Madrid.

The interior of the palace has sumptuous materials, such as:  Spanish marble, mahogany doors, mahogany windows and frescoes. The frescoes were made by artist like:  Corrado Giaquinto (1703-1765), Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) and Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779). Decoration of the palace has evolved over time and features a mixture of styles that vary from period to period.

Front view of the Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is in Madrid, Spain

Philip V
Philip V commisoned the Royal Palace of Madrid to be built

Sabatini Gardens
The Sabatini Gardens are beside the Royal Palace of Madrid

Campo Del Moro Gardens
Campo Del Moro Gardens are located next to the Royal Palace of Madrid

8)  Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy

Benozzo Gozzoli
Benozzo Gozzoli painted a fresco in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi

The Palazzo Medici Riccardi is a mid-15th century structure in the heart of Florence that served as the residence of the Medici family; they were one of the most important forces in Italian culture and instrumental in the development of Florence as a city-state in the 16th as well as 17th centuries.

The Eldest of the Medici family, Cosimo, commissioned the architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi (1396–1472) to construct the palace nearby the San Lorenzo church and it is considered the first Renaissance building to be built in Florence. Michelozzo completed the palace in 1460 and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) later worked on the building for the Medici family; they were one of his primary as well as early patrons.

It’s comprised of  arched windows and a series of doors that lead to a courtyard along with a Renaissance Garden. One of its most notable features is a chapel decorated by a 1439 fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli (1421-1497) of the Procession of the Magi.

The building again changed hands in 1814 when the Riccardi family sold the palace of the state to the Provicincial authority and it has belonged to them ever since. It is currently a museum open to the public, where visitors are allowed to explore the exquisite works of art and dramatic interior decoration of the palace.

Courtyard of Palazzo Medici Riccardi
The Palazzo Medici Riccardi is in Florence, Italy

Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi
Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi built the Palazzo Medici Riccardi

Statue of Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarroti helped finish the Palazzo Medici Riccardi
By Hans Weingartz, via Wikimedia Commons

7)  Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

Bernhard Fischer von Erlach
 Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), a renowned Austrian architect and a master of the Baroque period.

The Schönbrunn Palace was originally built in the late 17th century by the Emperor of Austria, Leopold I, as a hunting lodge for his heir. The palace was designed by Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), a renowned Austrian architect and a master of the Baroque period. The palace became a center of courtly life under the influence of Maria Theresa (1717-1780), the only female ruler of the Habsburg dynasty, and was owned by the Habsburg Dynasty until 1918 when it was passed to the Republic of Austria once the monarchy fell.

The palace illustrates beautiful ornate Baroque gardens with matching buildings, the original idea behind the buildings was to unite the Habsburg dynasty with nature and glorify it. The lavish property encompasses a courtyard that connects with the chapel and theatre. The courtyard was originally a greenhouse used to cultivate plants, the Great Palm House and a zoological garden. You can find the Maze and Labyrinth in the courtyard garden.

The Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most visited attractions in Vienna for its majestic grounds, architecture and for the compelling story of the House of Hapsburg that ruled Austria until the early 20th century. It embodies numerous artistic philosophies and styles via its Baroque architecture and flamboyant gardens.

Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace is located in Vienna, Austria

Leopold I
Leopold I had The Schönbrunn Palace built

Empress Maria Theresa
Maria Theresa (1717-1780), the only female ruler of the Habsburg dynasty

Schönbrunn Palace Garden
Schönbrunn Palace Gardens and view of Neptunes Wall
By HeinzLW, via Wikimedia Commons

6)  Vatican Palace, Vatican City, Italy
The Vatican, most famously known as the home of the Pope and the center of the Catholic Church, is also a palace. The sprawling structure has St. Peter’s Basilica at its center, which is erected over the tomb of Saint Peter and is the largest religious building in the world.

The Vatican sits on the Tiber River where it is traditionally believed that Saint Peter, the first pope, was martyred. Constantine later built a shrine in the church to mark the tomb of Saint Peter but the church continued to expand over the next few centuries and new plans had to be drawn up.

The ceiling of the Vatican was painted by Michelangelo and was an initiative undertaken by Julius II, who was one of the arts biggest patrons during the Renaissance. He led many dramatic projects that include assembling an armed force to defend his lands and envisioning a sensational new part of the Vatican that would also house his own tomb. A number of noteworthy artists and architects were called into the project but the most notable one was Michelangelo who painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. He was later appointed as the final architect in his early 70's and worked on the ceiling for the majority of his life, despite the fact that he was primarily a sculptor who did not enjoy painting.

The Vatican is host to the immense Vatican Library, which houses some of the rarest religious and philosophical texts in the world. It gained city-state status from Italy in the early 20th century and functions as such in the center of Rome.

The Vatican Palace's, St Peter's Basilica
The Vatican Palace is located in Vatican City, Rome, Italy

Constantine built the tomb of St. Peter

Vatican Ceiling
The Vatican Ceiling was painted by Michelangelo

Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Vatican

The Vatican Library
The Vatican Library has some of the rarest religious and philosophical texts in the world
By Michal Osmenda, via Wikimedia Commons

5)  Louvre Palace, Paris, France
The Louvre Museum in Paris is known as the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and other major works of art. It originally began as a military fortress that evolved into a chateau and now is the familiar museum everyone knows of today.

The Louvre began as a fortress on the River Seine under Philippe Auguste (1180-1223) after a rampart was built around the city of Paris in 1190 to protect it from attacks. Over the next several centuries it was expanded depending on what member of the monarchy was in control. The fortress was converted into a chateau in the mid-14th century and acquired decorative elements, including:  carved windows, grand staircases, works of art, sumptuous textiles as well as a garden. It was inhabited by various members of the monarchy over hundreds of years and then abandoned for nearly a century in the 17th century when Versailles became the primary royal residence.

The museum today is the largest in the Western world and there is no architectural plan or style for the structure due to it being built as well as manipulated over eight centuries.

Ariel view of Louvre Palace
 Louvre Palace, Paris, France
By MatthiasKabel, via Wikimedia Commons

Crowning of Philippe Auguste
The Louvre began as a fortress on the River Seine under Philippe Auguste

Inside the Louvre Palace
The Louvre Palace is very decorative
By Kurt Muehmel, via Wikimedia Commons

4)  Qasr al-Hosn Palace, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia
The Qasr al-Hosn Palace is one of the Middle East’s most magnificent palaces, nestled amidst the huge buildings and bustling metropolis of Abu Dhabi in Saudi Arabia.

The palace was originally a military tower and then a fort at the end of the 18th century by Sheikh Shakhboot bin Diyab. Later in the 19th century, it continued to be used for this purpose to protect maritime trade and eventually cannons were added to further fortify the palace. It was not expanded again until 1958 upon the discovery of oil and more resources. After 1958, Qasr al-Hosn was then used as a central place to settle tribal disagreements.

Today, it serves as the governmental center that is replete with palatial elements and decorations that extend back centuries.

3)  Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow, Russia
The Grand Kremlin Palace, which also serves as the primary residence of the president, goes back hundreds of years and has undergone numerous transformations as well as additions.

The first structure considered to be the foundation for the Kremlin was a wooden fort established by Yuri Dolgoruki in 1147, specifically built next to the convergence of the two rivers that run through Moscow. Moscow continued to grow, despite setbacks, and its importance dramatically increased when the head of the Russian Orthodox Church moved to the city in the 14th century.

The Kremlin has been at the center of Russian political events and acted as a cultural storehouse of Russian art as well as culture, including the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin. It stands as one of the most iconic images of Russian architecture that overlooks the Red Square and the Cathedral of Saint Basil.

Grand Kremlin Palace
Grand Kremlin Palace is in Moscow, Russia

Duke Yuri Dolgoruki
The Kremlin was a wooden fort established by Yuri Dolgoruki in 1147

Church of the Nativity of the Virgin
Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in Moscow, Russia

St. Basil Cathedral in Red Square
St. Basil Cathedral in Red Square are part of The Kremlin Palace

2)  Buckingham Palace, London, England
Buckingham Palace, the residence of the Queen today, has served the royal family since 1837 and the site of the property itself traces origins back to the Middle Ages as part of a manor house.

The palace has over 700 rooms used for dining, entertaining, political meetings and bedrooms. It’s decorated with works of art from the Royal Collection but it’s not open to the public. The Queen frequently receives visitors at the Palace, ranging from political to cultural figures.

Some of the highlights of the palace include:  the Grand Staircase made of marble; the Throne Room where the Queen delivers addresses, court meetings and wedding photographs; and the Ballroom, one of the longest rooms in London. The Ballroom was constructed by Queen Victoria in 1853 and opened in 1856 with a reception to celebrate the end of the Crimean War with Russia.

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, London, England
By Diliff, via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase is elaborate in Buckingham Palace

The Ballroom
The Ballroom in Buckingham Palace is spaceous

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria is the first monarch to live in Buckingham Palace

1)  Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France
The Palace of Versailles is located about an hour outside of Paris in Versailles, France and has long been held as the ultimate example of exuberant luxury. Famously associated with the extravagant lifestyle of Marie Antoinette and her court before the French Revolution, Versailles is a wonder to behold in the present day with its prawling expanse of wealth outfitted with hallways and rooms full of gold, mirrored walls as well as chandeliers. The gardens of topiaries and the palace orangery are famous in addition to its luxurious interiors.

The chateau began as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII until 1682 when Louis XIV moved the central French government to Versailles. One of the most important contributions to the Palace of Versailles prior to the French revolution was the Grand Trianon, which was a group of buildings surrounded by a carefully curated and ornate garden.

Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is located about an hour outside of Paris in Versailles,
By ToucanWings, via Wikimedia Commons

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette lived in the Palace of Versailles

Louis XIII
The chateau of Versailles began as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII

Louis XIV
Louis XIV moved the French government to Versailles

Grand Trianon
The Grand Trianon was for the rulers of France

Final Thoughts
Palaces can be fun places to visit to see how the monarchs of history have lived surrounded by splendor and otherworldly lifestyles. These structures also stand as records of how humanity has progressed in architecture, art, politics and social science. It’s something every country in the world has; a huge structure with impressive amounts of decoration, winding rooms, immense wealth and affluence. Many palaces are relics transformed from private residences into museums but occasionally they are still functional sites within capitol cities.

Palaces may have been erected in the name of political gain, military force or personal wealth but they stand the test of time and remain symbols of the achievements of different cultures around the world.





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