A palace is a grand residence, especially the home of a head of state or some other high-ranking public figure. In many parts of Europe, the term is also applied to relatively large urban buildings built as the private mansions of the aristocracy. Many historic palaces are now put to other uses such as parliaments, museums, hotels or office buildings. The word is also sometimes used to describe a lavish public building which was never a residence; this use may be intended to convey that the building is a "people's palace", where a sort of civic consciousness resides.
The word "palace" 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. Emperor Augustus Caesar lived there in a purposely 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 neighbourhood on top of the hill.
"Palace" meaning "government" can be recognized in a remark of Paul the Deacon, writing ca 790 and describing events of the 660s: "When Grimuald set out for Beneventum, he entrusted his palace to Lupus" (Historia gentis Langobardorum, V.xvii). At the same time Charlemagne was consciously reviving the Roman expression in his "palace" at Aachen, of which only his chapel remains. In the 9th century the "palace" indicated the housing of the government too, 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). This has been used as evidence that power was widely distributed in the Empire, as in more centralized monarchies, only one supreme monarch would be allowed to call their home a palace.
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.
The townhouses of the aristocracy were also palais, although only if fairly grand - the entry level being set rather higher than in Italy. The Hôtel particulier was the term for less grandiose residences. Bishops always had a palais in the town, however their country homes were chateaux.
The usage is essentially the same in Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as the former Austrian Empire. In Germany, the wider term was a relatively recent importation, and was used rather more restrictively.
The history of India is full of numerous dynasties that have ruled over various parts of the country. While most monuments of the ancient period have been destroyed or lie in ruins, some medieval buildings have been maintained well or restored to good condition. Several medieval forts and palaces still stand proud all over India. These magnificent buildings are examples of the great achievements of the architects and engineers of that age. The palaces of India offer an insight into the life of the royalty of the country. While some royal palaces have been maintained as museums or hotels over the last decades, some palaces are still home for the members of the erstwhile royal families. These forts and palaces are the largest illustrations and legacy of the princely states of India.
Floats of flowers in grand fountains, shimmering blue water of magnificent baths and private pools, doric pillars, ornamental brackets, decorative staircases, light streaming in through large windows, India possesses some of the most fascinating forts and palaces, a true royal retreat. It is not just a romantic longing for a royal experience, but also the search for the truly authentic Indian experience that brings thousands of heritage lovers to India's palaces.
Rajasthan has a large number of forts and palaces that are major tourist destinations in North India. The Rajputs (collective term for the rulers of the region) were known as brave soldiers who preferred to die than be taken prisoners. They were also great connoisseurs of art and brilliant builders. The most famous forts and palaces in Rajasthan are located in Chittor, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur , Jaisalmir, Amber and Nahargarh. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces manage some of the most iconic palaces of the region, Lake Palace, Udaipur; Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur; Fort Madhogarh, Jaipur and Rambagh Palace, Jaipur; and offer authentic royal retreats to the guests in all its grandeur, splendor and magnificence.
In Italy, any urban building built as a grand residence is a palazzo; these are often no larger than a Victorian townhouse. It was not necessary to be a nobleman to have your house considered a palazzo; the hundreds of palazzi in Venice nearly all belonged to the patrician class of the city. In the Middle Ages these also functioned as warehouses and places of business, as well as homes. Each family's palazzo 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 by extension to any large fine apartment building, as so many old palazzi were converted to this use.
Bishop's townhouses were always palazzi, and the seat of a localized regime would also be so called. 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.
In Central Mexico, the Aztec Emperors built many palaces in the capital of their empire, Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City), some of which may still be seen. On observing the great city Hernan Cortés wrote, "There are, in all districts of this great city, many temples or palaces... They are all very beautiful buildings. Amongst these temples there is one , the principal one, whose great size and magnificence no human tongue could describe,.. All round inside this wall there are very elegant quarters with very large rooms and corridors. There are as many as forty towers, all of which are so high that in the case of the largest there are fifty steps leading up to the main part of it and the most important of these towers is higher than that of the cathedral of Seville..."
Also in Mexico is Chapultepec Palace, or Castillo de Chapultepec, located in the middle of Chapultepec Park in Mexico City which currently houses the Mexican National Museum of History. It is the only castle, or palace, in North America that was occupied by sovereigns - Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, a member of the House of Habsburg and his consort, Empress Carlota of Mexico, daughter of Leopold I of Belgium. The palace features many objects d'art ranging from gifts of Napoleon III's to paintings by Franz Winterhalter and Mexican painter Santiago Rebull.
The National Palace, or Palacio Nacional, located in Mexico City's main square, the Plaza de la Constitución (El Zócalo), first built in 1563, is in the heart of the Mexican capital. In 1821, the palace was given it's current name and the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government were housed in the palace; the latter two branches would eventually reside elsewhere. During the Second Mexican Empire, its name was changed, for a time, to the Imperial Palace. The National Palace continues to be the official seat of the executive authority, although it is no longer the official residence of the President.
In more recent years, the word has been used in a more informal sense for other large, impressive buildings, such as The Crystal Palace of 1851 (an immensely large, glazed hall erected for the Great Exhibition) and modern arenas-convention centers like Alexandra Palace (which is no more a palace than Madison Square Garden is a garden).