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Palace, Trier Germany (Germany)

The quintessential medieval European palace: Palais de la Cité, in Paris, the royal palace of France. Viewed from the back, across the Seine River, with the Sainte Chapelle on the right side. Painted in the 1410s. From the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

In English a palace is the home of a head of state or other high-ranking public figure. In some countries, such as Italy, the term is also applied to some private mansions. Many palaces are now put to other uses such as parliaments or museums. The word is also sometimes used to describe a lavish public building which does not house a public figure; this use is intended to convey that the building is a "people's palace", where a sort of civic consciousness resides.

Historians apply the term "palace" anachronistically, to label the complex structures of Minoan Knossos, or the Mycenaean palace societies, or the 4th century B.C. Macedonian palace system of Philip of Macedon's Pella— or palaces outside the European world entirely.


Queluz National Palace

The word "palace" comes from the name of one of the seven hills of Rome, the Palatine Hill. The original 'palaces' on the Palatine Hill were the seat of the imperial power, while the capitol on the Capitoline Hill was the seat of the senate and the religious nucleus of Rome. Long after the city grew to the seven hills the Palatine remained a desirable residential area. Augustus Caesar lived there in a purposely modest house only set apart from his neighbors by the two laurel trees planted to flank the front door as a sign of triumph granted by the Senate. His descendants, especially Nero, with his "Golden House" enlarged the house and grounds over and over until it took up the hill top. The word Palatium came to mean the residence of the emperor rather than the neighborhood on top of the hill.

Palaces elsewhere

The Palais des Papes was the seat of the Papal Curia and the Pope at Avignon.

Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran. View of the main royal balcony.

Sheremetev Palace in Kuskovo.

"Palace" meaning "government" can be recognized in a remark of Paul the Deacon, writing ca 790 and describing events of the 660s: "When Grimuald set out for Beneventum, he intrusted his palace to Lupus" (Historia gentis Langobardorum, V.xvii). At the same time Charlemagne was consciously reviving the Roman expression in his "palace" at Aachen, of which only his chapel remains. In the 9th century the "palace" indicated the housing of the government too, and the constantly-travelling Charlemagne built fourteen. In the early Middle Ages, the Palas remained the seat of government in some German cities. In the Holy Roman Empire the powerful independent Electors came to be housed in palaces (Paläste) This has been used as evidence that power was widely distributed in the Empire, as in more centralized monarchies, only one supreme monarch would be allowed to call their home a palace.

In France there has been a clear distinction between a château and a palais. The palace has always been urban, like the Palais de la Cité in Paris (above), which was the royal palace of France and is now the supreme court of justice of France, or the palace of the Popes at Avignon.

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Palace of Versailles, near Paris, France.

The château, by contrast, has always been in rural settings, supported by its demesne, even when it was no longer actually fortified. Speakers of English think of the "Palace of Versailles" because it was the residence of the king of France, and the king was the source of power, though the building has always remained the Château de Versailles for the French, and the seat of government under the ancien regime remained the Palais du Louvre. The Louvre had begun as a fortified Château du Louvre on the edge of Paris, but as the seat of government and shorn of its fortified architecture and then completely surrounded by the city, it developed into the Palais du Louvre.

A palatial quinta: the Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal (Luigi Mannini, architect 1904–1910)

Palace in Mysore, India

Generalife, Spain.

In Italy, where localized regimes lasted to the 19th century, many a small former capital displays its Palazzo Ducale, the seat of government. In Florence and other strong communal governments, the seat of government was the Palazzo della Signoria until in Florence the Medici were made Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Then, when the power center shifted to their residence in Palazzo Pitti, the old center of power began to be called the Palazzo Vecchio.

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Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy.

Palazzo Medici, Florence, Italy.

But indeed, in some Italian cities, it is not uncommon to find many "palaces," including some comparatively humble mansions, each built by one of the principal noble families. Each family's palazzo was a hive that contained all the family members, though it might not always show a grand architectural public front. In the 20th century palazzo in Italian came to apply to any large fine apartment building.

The National Palace, Mexico City.

In the Americas, the Aztec Emperors built many palaces, some of which may still be seen. Also in Mexico is Chapultepec Palace located in the middle of Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. It currently houses the Mexican National Museum of History. It is the only castle in North America that was occupied by European sovereigns - Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico and his consort, Empress Carlota. The National Palace, first built in 1563, is located in the heart of the Mexican capital.

In England, by tacit agreement, there have been no "palaces" other than those used as official residences by royalty and certain bishops. Thus the Palace of Beaulieu gained its name precisely when Thomas Boleyn sold it to Henry VIII in 1517; previously it had been known as Walkfares. But like several other palaces, the name stuck even once the royal connection ended. Although Blenheim Palace  was never a royal residence, the name was part of the extraordinary honour when the house was given by a grateful nation to a great general. (Along with several royal and episcopal palaces in the countryside, Blenheim does demonstrate that "palace" has no specific urban connotations in English.)

Episcopal Palace of Astorga

As on the continent, these royal and episcopal palaces were not merely residences; the clerks who administered the realm or the diocese labored there as well. (To this day many bishops' palaces house both their family apartments and their official offices.) However, unlike the "Palais du Justice" which is often encountered in the French-speaking world, modern British public administration buildings are never called "palaces"; although the formal name for the "Houses of Parliament" is the Palace of Westminster, this reflects Westminster's former role as a royal residence and centre of administration.

Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany.

Sans Souci, Potsdam, near Berlin, Germany.

In more recent years, the word has been used in a more informal sense for other large, impressive buildings, such as The Crystal Palace of 1851 (an immensely large, glazed hall erected for the Great Exhibition) and modern arenas-convention centres like Alexandra Palace (which is no more a palace than Madison Square Garden is a garden).

Absolute largest palace in the world, Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

The largest in the world is Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania. Built during the socialist regime, no effort or expense was spared to raise this colossal neo-classic building, second largest inhabited structure in the world after the Pentagon.
London Palaces
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04- Chiswick House 05- Banqueting House 44- Tower of London
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50- Windsor Castle 51- Hampton Court 71- Apsley House
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73- Buckingham Palace 75- Clarence House 78- Eltham Palace
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84- Kensington Palace 31- St. James 95- Winchester Palace
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