Living Like a King: Take a Look at the 5 Largest Palaces In the World

The largest royal palaces have all sort of amenities, including opera houses and air-conditioned stables

These royal palaces were built to impress. And impress they do, thanks to their size and rich decorations. Not to mention the amenities they have including up to 5 swimming pools per palace, royal pharmacies, armories, entertainment halls, and thousands of rooms. Without further ado, here are the 5 largest royal palaces in the world by continuous floor space.

1. Hofburg Palace Complex. Austria. 240,000 m2 (2,583,000 ft2).

Hofburg started as a more modest abode in the 13th century. It was a fortified castle built in Vienna by the Babenbergs, who governed Austria at the time. Soon, though, the Habsburg family took the throne -and the castle. And for the next 600 years almost each Habsburg emperor remodeled it or added buildings to the complex.

Nowadays, Hofburg’s main buildings are all connected, forming one massive, contorted building which, according to official sources, has 240,000 m2 of continuous floor space, making Hofburg the largest royal palace in the world.

A mix of styles

In the 16th century dowager empress Wilhelmina Amalia built herself a stand-alone building, the Amalia Wing, in front of the original palace. Many subsequent empresses lived there, including famous Sissi. But the building was not to remain independent for long, in 1668 Leopold I connected the Amalia Wing with the rest of the palace through the Leopold Wing. This magnificently decorated building, the Leopold, is where the president of Austria has his offices now.

New wings
Plan of the palace showing the name of each wing
Palace’s layout. 1 Original castle. 2 Church and cloister. 3 Stables. 6 Ball Rooms Wing. 8 Library. 9 Augustinian Wing. 10 Palace Archduke Albert. 13 St. Michael Wing. 14 New Wing. 15 Corps de Logis. 16 Palm House. (Wiki–travel.com)

In the 18th century the kings asked Johann Fischer von Erlach and his son to build several new buildings, including a library, called Imperial Chancellory Wing, which would later be used as royal apartments; the Winter Riding School, where young aristocrats learned to ride horses; and the Ball Rooms Wing with its opera house. And it is in the Ball Rooms Wing that composers such as Liszt, Beethoven, Strauss, and Mozart played several of their works for the very first time.

The 19th century saw the addition of the Festival Hall Wing and the curved St. Michael Wing; while the 20th century brought the also curved New Wing. The monarchy fell in 1918. The Hofburg is now the seat of the republican government. It is used for conferences, exhibitions, and receptions, and its decorated halls are rented out for events.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Original building: 13th century
  • Latest addition/remodeling: 21st century
  • 2,600 rooms
  • 18 wings
  • 19 courtyards
  • 44 event rooms are rented out now, with a total floor space of 17,000 m2
  • Three-story wine cellar
  • Library with 200,000 volumes
  • Riding school with stables
  • Opera house
  • People that live and work at the palace today: 5,000
  • Currently the seat of government, a museum, and public library

2. Grand Louvre. France. 210,000 m2 (2,260,000 ft2).

When King Philip II was leaving for the Crusades in 1190, he built a fort to protect Paris from invaders in his absence. In the following centuries when the kings were in Paris, they would stay at the fort. So in the 14th century Charles V decided to expand it.

The freestanding buildings of the Louvre and Tuileries

When Francis I decided to make Paris his permanent residence (1528), he embellished this medieval chateau. Most of his plans were carried out after his death by his son Henry II and his grandson Charles IX.

In those times the Louvre only had one building and a small gallery. Then, Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medici, built herself another palace (1564), the Tuileries, in front of the Louvre. Both buildings stood alone, separated by vast gardens.

The vicinity of the palaces gave Henry IV the idea to unite them, creating one huge royal residence. To the effect, he built the Grande Galerie, which runs next to the Seine river for 460 m (1,509 ft). The Galerie connected the Louvre with the Tuileries.

A unified mega building
Plan by construction year. Originally, the Louvre was the square on the right. The Tuileries is the orange tract on the left with the years 1564-1572. (Photo: Paris 16/CCBYSA4.0)

In the 17th century Louis XIV and his architect turned the original building into a square palace with a courtyard, the Cour Carrée, at its center. But the king soon left Paris in favor of his new royal residence: Versailles. And a century later the Louvre became a museum (1793).

Napoleon I and Napoleon III lived in the Tuileries and built a gallery that parallels the one Henry IV erected along the Seine (19th century). Therefore, by the end of Napoleon III’s life, all the buildings of the Louvre and Tuileries were connected and formed a rectangle. However, in 1871 insurgents burnt down the Tuileries, giving the Louvre its distinctive U shape. In spite of all the additions and subtractions the Louvre pretty much looks like one cohesive palace.

Underground floor

During the 1980’s and 90’s the museum underwent a renovation. Architects of Verner Johnson added an underground floor with storage rooms, cafeterias, shops, parking lots, and other amenities. And designed the glass pyramid that now serves as the entrance to the Louvre. In 2012 four courtyards were covered with glass ceilings. With the additions, the Louvre reached a floor space of 210,000 m2, making it the second largest royal palace in the world.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Original building: 12th century
  • Latest addition/remodeling: 21st century
  • It has four floors
  • Underground parking lot for 1,000 cars and 350 buses
  • Has cafeterias, shops, art galleries, royal apartments
  • World’s largest museum
  • The Louvre receives 8 million visitors each year
  • Currently a museum

3. Istana Nurul Iman, Brunei. 200,000 m2 (2,152,000 ft2).

Brunei has had many run-ins with European powers during its history. And in the 19th century it fell under British rule and become a protectorate. Nevertheless, the sultan remained the head of the state. And in 1979 Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah negotiated Brunei’s independence with the British. It was agreed that the country would be fully independent five years later.

Marble and gold

To mark the occasion, the sultan commissioned the construction of a palace, the Istana Nurul Iman, that he inaugurated on independence day, January 1st of 1984. And since he is one of the richest men in the world, he decorated it with the most luxurious materials.

The massive building is mainly decorated with gold and marble. Door and window tiles, as well as door knobs, are made of solid gold. 38 different types of marble were used in the interiors. And although the Istana has 44 marble staircases, it also has 18 elevators.

The light of faith

Istana Nurul Iman means “Palace of the Light of Faith.” The name mixes Malay and Arabic, since those two cultures are pervasive in Brunei. The palace itself has elements of both. Its golden domes are Islamic, while the curved roofs are Malay.

The 200,000 m2 palace has 1,788 rooms, stables, and several swimming pools. It is the official residence of the sultan and the seat of government.

The palace rises next to a great park and the Brunei river. It is located a few kilometers away from Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.

In spite of its size, Istana was completed in just two years, at a cost of 1.4 billion dollars.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Original building: 20th century
  • Built in 2 years
  • Cost: 1.4 billion dollars
  • 1,788 rooms
  • 257 bathrooms
  • Banqueting hall for 5,000
  • Mosque for 1,500
  • Underground garage for 110 cars
  • Stable for 200 horses -with air conditioning
  • 5 swimming pools
  • World Record: Largest residential palace
  • Currently the residence of the Sultan of Brunei

4. Royal Palace of Madrid, Spain. 135,000 m2 (1,450,000 ft2).

This palace was born from the ashes, like a Spanish phoenix.

In the 9th century invading Muslim troops built a fort in Madrid. It had a mosque, residential quarters, and gardens. Eventually, the Spaniards reconquered their territory. And in the next centuries the fort was turned into a sumptuous palace known as the Alcazar, which became the residence of the Spanish kings.

From the ashes

But on Christmas Eve of 1734 there was a fire in the Alcazar. It may have started in the rooms of painter Jean Ranc, product of drunk servants and an unattended chimney. The fire burned for four days until it consumed itself, leaving nothing behind.

Immediately, King Philip V decided to build a new palace in the same site. He called one of the best architects of the time, Italian Filippo Juvarra. But Juvarra died and left the palace unfinished. So it was up to his pupil Sachetti to adapt Juvarra’s plans and build the square-plan palace.

A palace fit for the grandson of Louis XIV

King Philip had been raised in the magnificent palace of Versailles, in the court of his French grandfather Louis XIV. And he loved the glamour of the French palaces of his youth. So architect Juvarra drew inspiration from them for his project.

Juvarra used marble to decorate the interiors, and local limestone and granite for the facade. With these materials, the new palace was also protected against fires.

The palace was built in 14 years, but it took 8 more years, until 1759, for it to be appropriately furnished. King Philip even outdid his grandiose grandfather, for Madrid’s Royal Palace is twice the size of Versailles.

The second architect, Sachetti, had designed a perfectly symmetric building. But the very first resident of the palace, Philip’s son, Charles III, added two projecting wings to his new abode, breaking the symmetry.

Art-loving Charles called two of the most famous painters in the world at the time, Tiepolo and Mengs, to decorate the walls and ceilings of his home and seat of government.

Charles’ apartments were located in the Oriental Facade. Nowadays his descendant, King Felipe VI of Spain, gives audience in those rooms.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Original building: 18th century
  • Built in 14 years
  • Each facade is 130 m long
  • Has 3,418 rooms
  • Has a Royal Pharmacy
  • Dining room of 400 m2
  • Royal library: 300,000 volumes from various centuries
  • China Room
  • Throne Room with a ceiling painted by Tiepolo
  • Gallery with paintings by Velasquez, Goya, Caravaggio
  • Royal Armory with armor used by the Spanish kings, plus the swords of conquistadors Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro.
  • The royal stables were turned into a garden in the 20th century
  • Kitchen occupies 800 m2
  • Currently the official residence of the King of Spain (in reality he lives in a 1,000 m2 (10,700 ft²) house outside of Madrid)

5. Quirinal Palace, Italy. 110,500 m2
(1,189,000 ft2).

After visiting a friend’s house on the Quirinal Hill of Rome, the pope decided he too wanted a house, with beautiful gardens, in the area. Unlike his usual residence in Rome, the Quirinal was far enough from the Tiber river to spare him the river’s smell, and high enough to spare him the bouts of malaria so frequent in the valleys of the Eternal City.

P-shape

Pope Gregory XIII began construction of his summer residence in 1583. At first the would-be palace was one building surrounded by gardens. But subsequent popes kept remodeling it and adding wings, until the palace had a rectangular layout with a courtyard in the middle. In the 18th century Pope Clement XII finished building the Manica Lunga (Long Handle), an adjoining 360 m (1,181 ft) long building that gives the palace an unusual “P” shape.

The popes went all out with the inner decor, in the Italian way. The floors are covered with colorful marbles that form geometric patterns. And walls and ceilings are full of frescoes and decorations.

Imperial, royal, and presidential

When Napoleon’s troops invaded Italy, he seized the Quirinal Palace for himself. And sent his architects to give it a more a Neoclassical look. In 1871 Italy became an unified kingdom and the new kings, once more, chose the Quirinal as their residence in Rome. Nowadays the palace is the home of the president of the republic.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Original building: 16th century
  • Latest addition/remodeling: 19th century
  • 1,200 rooms
  • Famous architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed a part of the building
  • Occupied by 30 popes, 4 kings, and 12 presidents of the republic
  • 1,807 people work there nowadays
  • $230 millions in maintenance a year
  • 250,000 annual visitors
  • Currently the official residence of the president of the republic and a museum

Some of the other palaces that were considered for this article:

Potala Palace, Tibet.

Might very well be the largest royal palace in the world. Then again, maybe not. It is difficult to tell without official numbers and due to the highly irregular floor plan of the palace. At its widest it is 360 m and at its deepest, 260 m. But in some sections the building is just a few meters deep. Potala has 13 floors -the layout changes from floor to floor-, and 1,000 rooms, the largest of which is 725 m2. The monastery alone, which is one of the smaller buildings of Potala, covers 25,000 m2. Potala was built in the 600’s and for hundreds of years was the residence of the Dalai Lamas, the former rulers of Tibet. It is divided into two main sections: the Red Palace, used for religious activities; and the White Palace that was the residential and administrative area.

Topkapi Palace, Turkey. 400,000 m2. It is a complex with many stand-alone buildings connected by gardens and courtyards.

Palace of Parliament, Romania. 365,000 m2. Built by dictator Ceaeusescu; it has never been a royal palace.

Hermitage Museum Complex, Russia. The whole museum has 233,345 m2 of floor space, but that includes several freestanding buildings. The connected buildings are five, four on the river bank and one in the back, and were built by Empress Catherine the Great. Their combined size is about 100,000 m2. The biggest building, the Winter Palace, has 60,000 m2 and 1,500 rooms. The others were used by Catherine as a theater, stables, and to house her art collection.

Ak Aaray, Turkey. 200,020 m2 (2,152,997 ft2). It has never been a royal palace. It is the home of the president of Turkey.

Apostolic Palace, Vatican City. 162,000 m2 (1,743,753 ft2). It has never been a royal palace. It is occupied by the popes.

Marlbork Castle, Poland. 143,000 m2 (1,539,239 ft2). A fortress built in the Dark Ages. Not all its buildings are connected.

Laxmi Vilas Palace, India. Officially, it is supposed to be four times the size of London’s Buckingham Palace (which is 77,000 m2). But it is probably about the same size. Laxmi’s facade is 152 m wide and some 60 m deep. Buckingham’s is 108 m wide and the building is 120 m deep. Both palaces have inner courtyards that subtract floor space. And both have three stories, with Laxmi being irregular and having more floors in some tracts and less in others. Buckingham has 775 rooms; Laxmi, 170.

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