Saturday, 15 June 2013

World's prettiest castles part 2

Hawa Mahal
Jaipur, India

In 1799, Indian Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh had the Hawa Mahal built in Jaipur so that the women in

his court could have a clandestine spot to admire the festivities in the market square below. (In

those days, royal Indian women observed Purdah, which forbade them from going out in public or

being seen by strangers.) The red and pink-hued sandstone edifice's name translates to "The Palace

of the Winds," which refers to the westward breezes that blow across the 593 windows gracing the

palace's latticed facade. Today, the palace isn't restricted to royal ladies: Tourists can peer through

the palace's famous windows, soak up the breathtaking views of the city from the top and explore

the small royal museum within. However, the best views of the palace are still from street level —

sunrise bathes the front wall of the palace in golden light from the rising sun, so plan on arriving

early if you're looking to capture stunning photos.

 Hearst Castle
San Simeon, Calif.

Beginning in 1919, newspaper and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst began laying the

groundwork for his dream home atop a hill in San Simeon, Calif., about 100 miles south of Monterey.

Although it was never officially completed (Hearst had to leave the property in 1947 because of

health problems), Hearst Castle stands as a 165-room icon of American entrepreneurship and wealth.

The mansion — and its three spacious adjacent "cottages" — served as Hearst's playground, where he

entertained numerous members of the Hollywood elite, among other guests. The state of California

now owns the property, and visitors to San Simeon can take daily tours. "Cottage & Kitchen" tours

cover Hearst's two outdoor swimming pools, tickets to Hearst Castle Theater and a viewing of

Hearst's enormous wine cellar. Visitors can also learn about the mélange of architecture styles the

mansion features, including Spanish, Italian, Moorish and French detailing. And art history buffs will

want to check out the Hearst Castle's collection of fine art, which includes Antonio Canova's The

Three Graces statue and a marble sarcophagus depicting the nine muses that dates back to the 3rd

century A.D.

Grand Palace
Bangkok, Thailand

When King Rama I seized power of Siam in 1782, he set to work building a palace in central

Bangkok that would serve as the official residence of Chakri Dynasty kings. Although the current

King Rama IX no longer lives here (and all government offices moved elsewhere after the Siamese

Revolution of 1932), the Grand Palace still stands as one of Bangkok's most visited — and most

picturesque — landmarks. Visitors to the Grand Palace can snap photos of the glittering gold spires

and other impressive gilded structures. Perhaps the most remarkable feature is Wat Phra Kaew, or the

Emerald Buddha Temple, which is named for the green Buddha statue on top of its gold altar (though

the Buddha is actually made of jadeite, not emeralds). Further along, visitors will see Rama I's library

with its mother-of-pearl doors and the Buddhist texts within. And throughout the tour, you'll notice

an eclectic mix of architecture and building techniques, including Asian styles like Ayutthaya, Sri

Lankan and Thai, as well as Western influences from England, Italy and France.

Château de Chambord
Chambord, France

The elaborate Château de Chambord, located in the French countryside about 111 miles south of

Paris, was never designed for sensible living. The heating and upkeep of the castle alone were so

arduous that the French royal family only spent summers and short retreats here; the structure and

grounds were used mainly for hunting and entertainment purposes. What Château de Chambord lacks

in practicality, though, it makes up for in stunning architecture. King François I began building the

Château in 1519; the palace features a magnificent — and baffling — double spiral staircase, which

allows one person to ascend and another to descend without meeting each other on the way (some

speculate that the Château and its staircase were designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who was under the

king's patronage at the time). Outside, Château de Chambord's roof is a marvel in itself, with intricate

turrets and cupolas reminiscent of an Italian city skyline. While visitors today can behold Château de

Chambord's architectural wonders, textile lovers might be disappointed; all of the palace's original

furniture was stolen during the French Revolution.

 Smithsonian Castle
Washington, D.C.

Although built in the Norman style (a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture from the

12th century), Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Castle was finished as recently as 1855. The sandstone

building became the foundation of the Smithsonian Institution's museums, of which there are now 20

around D.C. and in New York (including the National Zoo). But back in 1855, the castle stood alone

on a plot of downtown D.C. earth that was to become the National Mall. The castle's east wing

housed Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, along with his wife and three daughters.

And since none of the Smithsonian museums had been constructed yet, the Smithsonian's

collections also called the castle home. It wasn't until 1881, with the erection of the U.S. National

Museum (now called the Arts and Industries Building) next door, that the Smithsonian's arts and

sciences collections began to expand. Today, the castle accommodates the Smithsonian Institution's

administrative offices — but the castle's bureaucratic status doesn't make it any less beautiful. Those

traveling to Washington, D.C. can admire the Smithsonian Castle's red towers, turrets and arches from

the National Mall. Venture inside to see the castle's tall windows and skylights in action, as they

flood the lecture halls and galleries with ample natural light.

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