Saturday, July 7, 2012

Buckingham Palace

Two palaces in two days, not bad if I do say so myself.  Today I went to the absolutely breath taking Buckingham Palace, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in London.  Unfortunately, photos aren't allowed in the Palace, only outside, so you'll have to settle with photos from Google with my own commentary, sorry!

Before we start, I'm going to go over a few facts about Buckingham Palace.  The Palace started as "Buckingham House," it was built in 1705 for the Duke of Buckingham.  King George III bought it in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte.  Architect John Nash was employed in the 19th century to enlarge the house, and in 1837 it became the official residence of the monarchy when Queen Victoria came to the throne.  There are 775 room in the palace, including 19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest rooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.  It is approximately 354 feet across the front, 393 feet deep and 78 feet tall.  In front of the Palace are the Queen's Guards (AKA the guys you make faces at).  We couldn't get close to them, but one of them is in the photo above.

Anyway, before you can get into the palace first you have to go through airport-style security, it's pretty intense.  You then get a cool audio tour with some comments from Prince Charles, which was interesting as well.  You go inside and the first thing you see is the Grand Entrance and then you go up the Grand Staircase, pictured above.  The staircase is surrounded by all sorts of gorgeous works of art, which is a common theme all throughout the palace, as past monarchs have been avid collector of art (they have the money after all).

From the Grand Staircase you go into the Green Drawing Room, designed by John Nash.  This room is decorated with intricate gild and the walls have always been covered with green silk.  The silk is replaced every thirty years or so, but it always keeps the same basic pattern.  Once again, gorgeous artwork hangs all over the walls, showing years of collecting over several monarchs.  Just past the Green Drawing Room is where some of the most famous pictures of the last year or so have been taken.

The Throne Room.  This is, once again, a huge room bathed in rich red with gorgeous chandeliers hanging from the gilded ceiling.  Queen Victoria was the first monarch to use this throne room, once again designed by John Nash, and, at the time, it was lit with approximately 200 candles.

It was in this room that Elizabeth II had her official wedding photos, along with Will and Kate just last year.

This photo above is my favorite, it's just too adorable.  I'd never seen it before.  Will and Kate are sitting on the steps to the throne with all their little pageboys (they don't have a ring bearer in the wedding) and little bridesmaids (once again, no flower girl).  How adorable are they?  It's so casual, almost like a normal wedding, only, it wasn't.

From the Throne Room you move on to the Picture Gallery, which is exactly what it sounds like.  It literally looks like an art museum with countless gorgeous works of art like it's no big deal that they're hanging here in a person's house basically.  King George IV wanted the gallery to show off all the artwork he'd been collecting, so John Nash obliged him (like he'd dare say no to the king).  Some artists hanging in the Gallery include Holbein, Rembrandt and Rubens.  It's not meant to be like a museum though, Nash designed it to be like a reception hall where you can go and socialize and admire the artwork.  Natural lighting has been worked into the design, as it has a huge skylight to let in the sunlight (that is, when it's actually sunny here in London, which is rare).

There is also a smaller East Gallery followed by the Ball Supper Room.  Both these rooms contain more works of art, although the latter has artwork more focused on the royal family.  My favorite one is the one pictured above of Queen Victoria with Prince Albert and some of their children.  I think this shows an example of the royal family doing what they do best, being a family.  The girls are happily doting on the baby while the Prince of Wales (picture in red, next in line to the throne) is sitting dutifully by his mother's side.  It's ironic, because Victoria hated being pregnant and thought newborns were ugly, and she would eventually have 9 children (4 boys and 5 girls).  They were married off all across Europe to various royal families, spreading the English influence far and wide.

Moving on from the galleries, you get to the huge and gorgeous Ballroom.  This was first complete in 1855 and was first used for a ball on May 8, 1856.  On the far wall in the back of the picture above is a massive pipe organ and seats for an orchestra to sit and play live music.  On the opposite wall are two thrones for the Queen and Prince Philip to sit on.  This is where huge State banquets and dinners are held, such as the Queen's New Year and Birthday Honors.  The Ballroom isn't the only place for royal functions of that scale though.

The State Dining Room is significantly smaller, but that doesn't make it any less amazing.  The one wall is lined with portraits of kings over the years while the opposite wall is lined with windows overlooking the gardens.  As you can tell from the photo above, the ceilings are gilded, and the room is, once again, bathed in gorgeous and rich red.  It is used for dining on special occasions.

The Blue Drawing Room is one of two drawing rooms planned by John Nash.  It was originally a ballroom before the official ballroom was built in 1855/1856.

 In the room is a gorgeous table owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, called the Table of the Grand Commanders (that's when you know something's legit, you're naming tables now).  The top of the table is decorated with the portraits of Alexander the Great and twelve other great commanders in history made to look like cameos you could just pick up right off the table.  The fireplace in the Blue Drawing Room is flanked by two portraits, one of King George V and the other of Queen Mary.  George V looks like Czar Nicholas II of Russia, which I found amusing.

The Blue Drawing Room is paired off with the appropriately named White Drawing Room, which I thought was far more ornate, although the white could have simply made the gold gild stand out more than usual.
  This is the room where guests are presented to Queen Elizabeth during her receptions throughout the year.  On the left side of the photo above in the back of the room is a mirror, which is above a cabinet.  This entire cabinet swings away from the wall, revealing a passageway for the Queen and other members of the royal family to discreetly enter and leave the room.  It reminds me of old castles and palaces that had the same thing, like you see in movies.

The final stop for the State Rooms is the gorgeous Marble Hall, designed to show off and display all sorts of sculptures.  Unfortunately, there are no windows, so there's no way to let in natural light, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful.  The sculptures are mostly Greek/Roman mythology while there are portraits of members of the royal family, mostly Victoria and Albert and their immediate family.

After walking through the Marble Hall, you're out back in the gardens, and, finally, photos are allowed.  The back of the palace gives you a sense for how massive it is.  What's really cool is there's also an indoor swimming pool attached to the palace, cool fact, I know.

You also get to walk about half a mile through the gorgeous gardens.  There weren't a lot of flowers, but there were gorgeous trees, a pond, etc.  The wildlife seemed to love it there, not that I could blame them.

Everywhere you looked it was beautiful.  It's hard to believe that everything I saw today is where someone lives.  I mean, obviously that someone is the Queen of England and a pretty important person, but still, this is basically her house (in addition to Windsor Castle).  Now, I know you're going to ask me, so I'm just going to save you the trouble, no, the queen wasn't there today.  It stinks, I know, but I still got to see Buckingham Palace.  I'm not going to reveal too much about my plans for the week, but let's just say I'm basically hitting most of the REALLY big sites in London this week, I'm really excited.

Now, if you want to take a closer look at the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, just click here.  This will bring you to virtual tours of the Palace.  It's nowhere near as gorgeous as in person, but it's definitely better than nothing.

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