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Friday, February 19, 2010

Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace is the seat of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the heart of the London borough of the City of Westminster, close to the historic Westminster Abbey and the government buildings of Whitehall and Downing Street. The name may refer to either of two structures: the Old Palace, a medieval building complex most of which was destroyed in 1834, and its replacement New Palace that stands today it has retained the style and status of a royal residence, despite its actual use.

Westminster Palace

The first royal palace was built on the site in the eleventh century, and Westminster was the primary London residence of the Kings of England until a fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512. After that, it served as the home of Parliament, which had been meeting there since the thirteenth century, and the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice, based in and around Westminster Hall. In 1834, an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and the only structures of significance to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters and Chapter House of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.

The subsequent competition for the reconstruction of the Palace was won by architect Charles Barry and his design for a building in the Perpendicular Gothic style. The remains of the Old Palace were incorporated in its much larger replacement, which contains over 1,100 rooms organised symmetrically around two series of courtyards. Part of the New Palace's area of 3.24 hectares or 8 acres was reclaimed from the Thames, which is the setting of its principal fa├žade, the 265.8-metre or 872 ft river front. Barry was assisted by Augustus W. N. Pugin, a leading authority on Gothic architecture and style, who provided designs for the decoration and furnishings of the Palace. Construction started in 1840 and lasted for thirty years, suffering great delays and cost overruns, as well as the death of both leading architects; works for the interior decoration continued intermittently well into the twentieth century. Major conservation work has been carried out since, due to the effects of London's pollution, and extensive repairs took place after the Second World War, including the reconstruction of the Commons Chamber following its bombing in 1941.

The Palace is one of the centres of political life in the United Kingdom Westminster has become a metonym for the UK Parliament, and the Westminster system of government has taken its name after it. Its Clock Tower, in particular, which has become known as "Big Ben" after its main bell, is an iconic landmark of London and the United Kingdom in general, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and an emblem of parliamentary democracy. The Palace of Westminster has been a Grade I listed building since 1970 and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

he grandest entrance to the Palace of Westminster is the Sovereign's Entrance beneath the Victoria Tower. It is designed for the use of the monarch, who travels from Buckingham Palace by carriage every year for the State Opening of Parliament. The Queen's Robing Room lies at the southern end of the ceremonial axis of the Palace and occupies the centre of the building's south front, overlooking the Victoria Tower Gardens. The Prince's Chamber is a small roombetween the Royal Gallery and the Lords Chamber, named after the room adjoining the Parliament Chamber in the Old Palace of Westminster. The Chamber of the house of lords located in the southern part of the Palace of Westminster. The exterior of the Palace of Westminster especially the Clock Tower is recognized worldwide, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in London. The UNESCO classifies the Palace of Westminster, along with neighbouring Westminster Abbey and St. Margarets, as a World Heritage Site. It is also a Grade I listed building.

Queen Royal Robing RoomWestminster palace
There is no casual access to the interior, but it may be seen in a number of ways. UK residents may obtain tickets in advance from their MP. It is also possible for both UK residents and overseas visitors to queue for admission on the day, but capacity is limited and there is no guarantee of admission. Only a very small part of the Palace interior may be seen. Either House may exclude strangers if it desires to sit in private. UK residents may apply to their MP or a peer for a place on a guided tour of Parliament while it is in session. British educational institutions may also arrange a tour through their MP. Overseas visitors may only tour Parliament during the summer recess. Tours are available during a two-month period during the summer when Parliament is not sitting. These tours are open to both UK residents and overseas visitors. Live broadcasts of Parliamentary sessions can be viewed on BBC Parliament; recorded footage is shown when Parliament is not in session.

Currently, only UK Residents can tour the Clock Tower, by arranging a tour through their local MP. Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank selected the Palace as one of his five choices for the 2006 BBC television documentary series Britain's Best Buildings. The nearest London Underground station is Westminster on the District, Circle and Jubilee Lines.

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