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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.
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 or empire.

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. 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) In stronger monarchies even the greatest noble did not hold court in a palace; the German usage was a signal that the central power was not strong.

The  was the seat of the Papal Curia. When the popes resided here at Avignon, it was an  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 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.

Thus 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.

 main entrance
Blenheim Palace main entrance

In England, by tacit agreement, there have been no "palaces" other than those used by royalty and the Archbishop of Canterbury. 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 (illustration, right) 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.

For the household staff of palaces, see great house.

List of Palaces

Some palaces and former palaces include:



  • Istana Nurul Iman: offical residence of the Sultan of Brunei and world's largest residential palace.


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:

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 3.5 km² (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.

Czech Republic




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Palace of the Republic, Minsk, Belarus

German has two contrasting words, parallel to French usage: Schloss which connotes a seat that is enclosed by walls, a fastness or keep, and Palast, a more conscious borrowing, with the usual connotations of splendor. The former Holy Roman Empire, a congeries of independent territories, is filled with residences that were seats of government and had every right to be called "palace." Even the Socialist government of the former East Germany met in the Palast der Republik (built in 1976).





From Goguryeo Dynasty

From Baekje Dynasty

From Shilla Dynasty

From Parhae Dynasty

From Taebong Dynasty

From Goryeo Dynasty

These are from Joseon Dynasty







In Turkish, a palace is a saray.

Indonesia, Sumatra - Pagaruyung Palace
Indonesia, Sumatra - Pagaruyung 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).da:Palads de:Palast nl:Paleis pl:PaÅ‚ac


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