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1 (tied) - Buckingham Palace


Buckingham Palace, the beginnings of which were first built in 1703 as a townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham, became the palace of the British monarch in 1837 with Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne.  Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert renovated the palace, added new wings and hosted balls and concerts there. After the death of Prince Albert, a mourning Queen Victoria moved to Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle and Osborne House. Eventually she returned to London.  With 755 rooms, including 19 state rooms, 52 bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms, Buckingham Palace is considered the largest “working” royal palace since it is mostly used for administrative purposes and is used to host state events and receptions.  The palace is owned by the British state, which contributes 15 million pounds each to the palace’s maintenance. Parts of Buckingham Palace are open to the public for tours.


1 (tied) - Istana Nurul Iman


The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah lives outside the capital Badar Seri Begawan in a sprawling palace by the Brunei River. At 2,152,782 square feet, the Istana Nurul Iman or Palace of Light and Faith is the largest residential palace in the world. There are 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, 5 swimming pools, and a mosque that fits 1,500 people. The extravagant palace also has an air conditioned stable for the Sultan’s 200 horses, a 110-car garage, a collection of 165 Rolls-Royces, 564 chandeliers and 18 elevators. The cost of building the palace in 1984 was around $1.4 billion USD. Open to the public during Hari Raya Aidilfitri at the end of Ramadan, the palace receives 110,000 visitors in these three days with food and packets of money for children.


2 - Pena National Palace


Designed in the spirit of European Romanticism, the Pena National Palace in Sintra Portugal is a palace that mixes Gothic revival, Neo-Manueline, Islamic and Neo-Renaissance styles. Its origins lie in a medieval chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena, where King John II and his wife made a pilgrimage. A monastery was also constructed in the area, but in the 18th century, it was damaged by lighting and later destroyed by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. King consort Ferdinand II was attracted to the ruins and decided to build a palace for the Portuguese royal family in that location. From 1842 to 1854, construction took place under the design and direction of Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, though King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II had creative input and suggested the inclusion of medieval and Islamic elements. After having faded to grey, the palace was repainted its vibrant red and yellow at the end of the 20th century. Pena National Palace is surrounded by Pena Park, 200 hectares of forested area filled with exotic trees from faraway lands.


3 - Alhambra


Calat Alhambra or “The Red Fortress” is a Moorish palace on top of a hill overlooking Granada, Spain. As a palace-city built by the last Emirs of the Nasrid dynasty in the 14th century, it had its own irrigation system and mosques within the fortress walls.  After the Catholic Reconquest of Spain, Charles V commissioned a palace within the Alhambra and other Christian rulers used portions of the fortress. Though it eventually fell into disrepair, the Alhambra was restored and maintained so that visitors could appreciate its beauty. The elaborately decorated fortress has exquisite carvings and inscriptions covering every bit of space. Light from the domes draws attention to the incredible mocarabe work, a complex arrangement of prisms with a stalactite design.  With its gardens, fountains and streams, the Alhambra was designed to be a realization of Paradise on earth.


4 - Topkapi Palace- Turkey


The official residence of the Ottoman Sultans in Turkey from 1465 to 1856, the Topkapi Palace, which was built by the conqueror of Constantinople Mehmed the II, is a shining example of the Ottoman Empire.  The palace complex, consisting of four courtyards and various low buildings, housed as many as 4,000 people, including the sultan, the Queen Mother, and the sultan’s harem, children and slaves.  The architecturally unique palace was designed in neither a European nor Islamic style. As the center of administration for the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace had mosques, bakeries, a hospital, a library, a pharmacy and a mint within its walls.  By 1856, Sultan Abdul Mecid I moved the court to the Dolmabahce Palace and in 1924, after the empire’s fall, Topkapi Palace became a museum filled with Ottoman artifacts, miniatures, treasures, jewelry, armor and art. Importantly, the Topkapi Palace contains holy Islamic relics, like the Prophet Mohammed’s clock and sword, footprint and seal.

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