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This article refers to royal residences. For more information on the graphical virtual reality application, see The Palace .

A palace is an important urban residence of a royal or noble family, with its origins as the executive power center of a kingdom.

The word "palace" to describe a royal residence 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 purposefully 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.

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

Charlemagne consciously revived the Roman expression in his "palace" at Aachen, of which only his chapel remains. In the 9th century the "palace" indicated the whole government, and the constantly-travelling Charlemagne built fourteen.

The Palais des Papes was the seat of the Papal Curia. When the popes resided here at Avignon, it was an enclave within French territory.
The Palais des Papes was the seat of the Papal Curia. When the popes resided here at Avignon, it was an enclave within French territory.

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 (illustration, left).

The chateau, 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.

In Florence, the seat of government was the Palazzo della Signoria until 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.

In England, by tacit agreement, there have been no "palaces" outside royal palaces, and, for comparable reasons, residences of the archbishops of Canterbury, such as Lambeth Palace, or the less-important Addington Palace. In this sense the archbishop's "palace" is the center of church government. 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. The Palace of Holyrood, it will be noted, is in Scotland, and when the Palace of Blenheim was the gift of a grateful nation to a great general, the name was part of the extraordinary honor. The Crystal Palace of 1851 seemed no thin edge of the wedge, being just an immensely large, glazed hall erected for the Great Exhibition, but it spawned arenas-cum-convention centres like Alexandra Palace (which is no more a palace than Madison Square Garden is a garden).

In Italy, by contrast, the palazzo of a family 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.

Many extant palaces have been transformed for other uses, such as parliaments or museums.


List of Palaces

Some palaces and former palaces include:


  • Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Austrian monarchs
  • The "Hofburg" , the Imperial Palace, Vienna


The English word "palace" is used to translate the Chinese word 宮 (pronounced "gōng" in Mandarin). This character represents two rooms connected (呂), under a roof (宀). Originally the character applied to any residence or mansion, but starting with the Qin Dynasty (2nd century BC) it was used only for the residence of the emperor and members of the imperial family. Chinese palaces are different from post-Renaissance European palaces in the sense that they are not made up of one building only (however big and convoluted the building may be), but are in fact huge spaces surrounded by a wall and containing large separated halls (殿 diàn) for ceremonies and official business, as well as smaller buildings, galleries, courtyards, gardens, and outbuildings, more like the Roman or Carolingian palatium.

List of imperial palaces, in chronological order:

  • Xianyang Palace (咸陽宮), in (Qin) Xianyang (咸陽), now 15 km/9 miles east of modern Xianyang , Shaanxi province: this was the royal palace of the state of Qin before the Chinese unification, and then the palace of the First Emperor when China was unified
  • Epang Palace (阿房宮 - probable meaning: "The Palace on the Hill"), 20 km/12 miles south of (Qin) Xianyang (咸陽), now 15 km/9 miles west of Xi'an (西安), Shaanxi province: the fabulous imperial palace built by the First Emperor in replacement of Xianyang Palace
  • Weiyang Palace (未央宮 - "The Endless Palace"), in (Han) Chang'an (長安), now 7km/4 miles northeast of downtown Xi'an (西安), Shaanxi province: imperial palace of the prestigious Western Han Dynasty for two centuries. This is the largest palace ever built on Earth, covering 480 hectares (1,186 acres), which is 6.7 times the size of the current Forbidden City, or 11 times the size of the Vatican City.
  • Southern Palace (南宮) and Northern Palace (北宮), in Luoyang (洛陽), Henan province: imperial palaces of the Eastern Han Dynasty for two centuries, the Southern Palace being used for court hearings and audiences, the Northern Palace being the private residence of the emperor and his concubines
  • Taiji Palace (太極宮 - "The Palace of the Supreme Ultimate"), also known as the Western Apartments (西内), in (Tang) Chang'an (長安), now downtown Xi'an (西安), Shaanxi province: imperial palace during the Sui Dynasty (who called it Daxing Palace - 大興宮) and in the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (until A.D. 663). Area: 420 hectares/1,038 acres (imperial section proper: 192 hectares/474 acres).
  • Daming Palace (大明宮 - "The Palace of the Great Brightness"), also known as the Eastern Apartments (東内), in (Tang) Chang'an (長安), now downtown Xi'an (西安), Shaanxi province: imperial palace of the Tang Dynasty after A.D. 663 (it was briefly named Penglai Palace (蓬萊宮) between 663 and 705), but the prestigious Taiji Palace remained used for major state ceremonies such as coronations. Area: 311 hectares (768 acres)
  • Kaifeng Imperial Palace (東京大内皇宮), in Dongjing (東京), now called Kaifeng (開封), Henan province: imperial palace of the Northern Song Dynasty
  • Hangzhou Imperial Palace (臨安大内禁宮), in Lin'an (臨安), now called Hangzhou (杭州), Zhejiang province: imperial palace of the Southern Song Dynasty
  • Ming Imperial Palace (明故宮), in Nanjing (南京), Jiangsu province: imperial palace of the Ming Dynasty until 1421
  • The Purple Forbidden City (紫禁城), now known in China as Beijing's Old Palace (北京故宫), in Jingshi (京師), now called Beijing (北京): imperial palace of the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty from 1421 until 1924. Area: 72 hectares (178 acres).

Apart from the main imperial palace, Chinese dynasties also had several other imperial palaces in the capital city where the empress, crown prince, or other members of the imperial family dwelled. There also existed palaces outside of the capital city called "away palaces" (離宮) where the emperors resided when traveling. The habit also developed of building garden estates in the countryside surrounding the capital city, where the emperors retired at times to get away from the rigid etiquette of the imperial palace, or simply to escape from the summer heat inside their capital. This practice reached a zenith with the Qing Dynasty, whose emperors built the fabulous Imperial Gardens (御園), now known in China as the Gardens of Perfect Brightness (圓明園), and better known in English as the Old Summer Palace. The emperors of the Qing Dynasty resided and worked in the Imperial Gardens, 8km/5 miles outside of the walls of Beijing, the Forbidden City inside Beijing being used only for formal ceremonies.

These gardens were made up of three gardens: the Garden of Perfect Brightness proper, the Garden of Eternal Spring (長春園), and the Elegant Spring Garden (綺春園); they covered a huge area of 350 hectares/865 acres (almost 5 times the size of the Forbidden City), comprising hundreds of halls, pavilions, temples, galleries, gardens, lakes, etc. Several famous landscapes of southern China had been reproduced in the Imperial Gardens, hundreds of invaluable Chinese art masterpieces and antiquities were stored in the halls, making the Imperial Gardens one of the largest museum in the world. Some unique copies of literary work and compilations were also stored inside the Imperial Gardens. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the British and French expeditionary forces looted the Old Summer Palace. Then on October 18, 1860, in order to "punish" the imperial court, which had refused to allow Western embassies inside Beijing, the British general Lord Elgin- with protestations from the French - purposely ordered to set fire to the huge complex which burned to the ground. It took 3500 British troops to set the entire place ablaze and took three whole days to burn. The burning of the Gardens of Perfect Brightness is still a very sensitive issue in China today.

Following this cultural catastrophe, the imperial court was forced to relocate to the old and austere Forbidden City where it stayed until 1924, when the Last Emperor was expelled by a republican army. Empress dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) built the Summer Palace (頤和園 - "The Garden of Nurtured Harmony") near the Old Summer Palace, but on a much smaller scale than the Old Summer Palace. There are currently some projects in China to rebuild the Imperial Gardens, but this appears as a colossal undertaking, and no rebuilding has started yet.







From Goguryeo Dynasty

  • Guknaesung , Imperial Palace, Jian
  • Anhakgung , Imperial Palace, Pyeongyang

From Baekje Dynasty

From Shilla Dynasty

  • Banwolsung , Kyungju

From Parhae Dynasty

  • Hwanggung , Yongchunbu

From Taebong Dynasty

  • Gungyegung , Cheolwon

From Goryeo Dynasty

  • Manwoldae , Imperial Palace, Gaesung

These are from Joseon Dynasty




  • Palaces and Royal Residences (Casa Real de España)


Indonesia, Sumatra - Pagaruyung Palace
Indonesia, Sumatra - Pagaruyung Palace


  • Pagaruyung Palace


Malacanang Palace

United States

Contrast: White House

Vatican City

List of Non-residential Palaces

Some large impressive buildings which were not meant to be residences, but are nonetheless called palaces, include:

Note, too, the French use of the word palais in such constructions as palais des congrès (convention centre) and palais de justice (courthouse).

Last updated: 02-05-2005 21:29:59
Last updated: 02-20-2005 07:04:51