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5 - Royal Palace of Madrid in Spain


The Palacio Real de Madrid or Palacio de Oriente is the largest royal palace in Western Europe at 135,000 square meters  with 2,800 rooms. It is the official residence of the king of Spain, though King Juan Carlos and his family actually live in another palace and use the Palace of Madrid for State Ceremonies. The Royal Palace is located on the site of a 10th-century fortress built by the Emir of Cordoba Mohammad I. The fortress was later owned by the Taifa of Toledo, a Muslim medieval kingdom, until 1085, when Spain was reclaimed by Alfonso I. The Old Castle was built on the same site in the 16th century and when it burned down in 1734, it was replaced by a new palace commissioned by King Philip V and completed in 1764. The palace houses a large collection of artwork and historical relics, including armory, tapestries, furniture, ceramics, sculptures and a Stradivarius string quintet. The palace and its treasures are partially open to the public.


6 - The Forbidden City, Beijing, China


The largest palace complex in the world is the Forbidden City in Beijing China, which served as the imperial palace and home of the emperors from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. The name “Forbidden City” is a translation of the Chinese name Zijincheng – “Purple Forbidden City,” which combines the celestial significance of the North Star- Ziwei Star and the fact that only the emperor could grant permission for others to enter and leave. The layout of the Forbidden City is symbolic of traditional Chinese philosophy and religion down to its smallest details. The colossal self-contained “city” contains 980 surviving buildings and 8,707 rooms though legend says there are supposed to be 9,999 rooms. This is because the number 9 is a homonym for “long” and because 10,000 is the symbol for infinity, as well as the number of rooms in Heaven.  The color yellow is associated with the Earth and the Emperor, so the roofs have yellow-glazed tiles. The Outer Court, with its ceremonial halls, is arranged to represent Heaven, while the Inner Court with the living quarters, represents Earth.

14 of the Ming emperors and ten of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty lived in the Forbidden City. The last emperor Puyi abdicated in 1912 and was allowed to remain in the Inner Court until he was evicted in 1924. The Palace Museum was established shortly after in 1925, but the treasures had to be evacuated during the Japanese invasion of World War II. The Forbidden City is currently known by the name Gugong or “Former Palace” and houses the Palace Museum. It has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


7 - The Winter Palace – St. Petersburg, Russia


From 1732 to 1917, the Winter Palace was a home for the Russian Tsars. Architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli designed the elaborate palace in the Baroque and Rocco style for Grand Duchess Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, as a symbol of the might of imperial Russia.  During her reign, Catherine the Great expanded the Winter Palace and commissioned the addition of a new wing called the Hermitage and filled the palace with a large collection of artwork. After Catherine’s death, Nicolas I opened the Hermitage to the public as the first art museum in Russia. The assignation of Alexander II in 1881 led the royal family to fear for their security and from then on, the Winter Palace no longer served as the true residence of the Tsars. Instead, the Romanovs moved to the more secure palace at Tsarskoe Selo and used the Winter Palace for administrative purposes. In the early decades of the turbulent 20th century, three of the major turning points in Russian history took place in the Winter Palace. The first was the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1905, when 1,000 unarmed protesters who were unaware that the Tsar no longer lived in the Winter Palace were killed by the Tsar’s troops. The controversy surrounding the event motivated the establishment of the Russian parliament, the Duma in 1906. After heavy Russian losses in the First World War, Nicolas II abdicated and he and his family were executed at Yekaterinburg. In October, 1917, the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace and pillaged the palace, removing precious artifacts and looting the valuable wine cellar. Once a symbol of a powerful Russian monarchy, the enormous palace, which is three stories high and has 1,500 rooms, 1,945 windows, 1,786 doors and 117 staircases, now serves as a museum.


8 - Mysore Palace


This palace in the city of Mysore, India is the home of the royal family of the Wodeyars, who ruled the Kingdom of Mysore from 1399 until 1947. Though the original palace was built in the 14th century, Mysore lost importance in 1610, when the Raja Wodeyar moved his capital to Sriranagapattana. The palace was damaged and demolished multiple times- first by lightning in 1638 and then in 1787 by Tipu Sultan, whose father Hyder Ali had taken over Mysore in 1762. With the fourth Mysore war of 1799, Lord Mornington, Governor General of India gave the Mysore Kingdom back to the Wodeyars and Mysore’s status as capital was restored. A new palace was built in 1803, though this palace was destroyed in a fire in 1897. The current palace was finally finished in 1912 in the Indo-Saracenic style, with pink marble domes and many arches. During the two month period surrounding the 10-day Dasara festival, the Mysore Palace is lit up with over 96,000 lights. Some notable rooms are: the ornately-decorated Ambavilasa, used for private audiences with the king, the Gombe Thotti, housing a gallery of traditional dolls and sculptures and the Kalyana Mantapa (marriage hall), with peacock motifs and stained glass.


9 - The Potala Palace – Tibet


The 13-story, 117-meter high Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet is a wonder of Tibetan architecture high in the mountains. King Songsten Gampo first built the palace on the hill representing the bodhisattva Chenresig  in 637 AD. In 1645 the fifth Dalai Lama began construction on the Potrang Karpo (White Palace) of the Potala Palace, which was completed in 1694 and was the living place of the fifth through thirteenth Dalai Lamas. The Potrang Marpo (Red Palace,) added from 1690 to 1694, is the site of religious study and the location of the tombs of past Dalai Lamas. Following the failed uprising of 1959, the fourteenth Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India in 1959. Potala Palace is currently a museum and to preserve its structural integrity, visitors are limited to 2,500 per day.