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Monday, June 11, 2012

World Tour Guides to Westminster Palace

World Tour Places: Houses of Parliament or one of the great palaces in the world is Westminster Palace. It is the meeting place 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 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.

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 (with the exception of the detached Jewel Tower) were incorporated in its much larger replacement, which contains over 1,100 rooms organized symmetrically around two series of courtyards. Part of the New Palace's area of 3.24 hectares (8 acres) was reclaimed from the Thames, which is the setting of its principal fa├žade, the 266-metre (873 ft) river front. 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. The Palace is one of the centers 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. The Clock Tower, in particular, which is often referred to by the name of its main bell, Big Ben, 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 grandest entrance to the Palace of Westminster is the Sovereign's Entrance beneath the Victoria Tower. It was designed for the use of the monarch, who travels from Buckingham Palace by carriage every year for the State Opening of Parliament. The Imperial State Crown, which is worn by the sovereign for the ceremony, as well as the Cap of Maintenance and the Sword of State, which are symbols of royal authority and are borne before the monarch during the procession, also travel to the Palace by coach, accompanied by members of the Royal Household; the regalia, as they are collectively known, arrive some time before the monarch and are exhibited in the Royal Gallery until they are needed. The Sovereign's Entrance is also the formal entrance used by visiting dignitaries, as well as the starting point of public tours of the Palace.

The Queen's Robbing 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. As its name indicates, it is where the Sovereign prepares for the State Opening of Parliament by donning official robes and wearing the Imperial State Crown. The focus of this richly decorated room is the Chair of State used by the monarch; it sits on a dais of three steps, under a canopy adorned with the arms and floral emblems of England, Scotland and Ireland.

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