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Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace –
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Buckingham Palace was built by the 1st Duke of Buckingham in 1702. It was originally intended as a country mansion at the edge of St. James’s Park, but the rapidly-expanding city meant it settled into a central position.
George III purchased it in 1762, and embellishments by King George IV turned it into an imposing royal home.
George IV secured £200,000 from Parliament and hired Britain’s leading light – John Nash – to make the alterations. Unfortunately, the King’s incessant demands pushed the price up threefold, and Nash was replaced by Edward Blore.
Most of what you see today is relatively new. The large wing facing The Mall for example, was only added in the 1850s, when Marble Arch was moved to its present location near Hyde Park corner. Marble Arch originally served as the main entrance gate, but the new Queen added an entire front wing – creating the famous balcony where they wave at the crowds.
The last major piece of work occurred in 1913, when the front was replaced with Portland Stone. This was to complement the Queen Victoria Memorial nearby, which was built upon her death.
Buckingham Palace was bombed no less than seven times by the Nazis, but escaped serious damage. The Germans intended it to be a demoralising blow – but it actually had the opposite effect. Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) was quoted as saying,
I’m glad we’ve been bombed – now I can look the East End in the face!
A famous newsreel from the 1940s shows a brave man ramming a bomber off-course as it descended on the Palace. The brave pilot miraculously survived, and his plane’s engine can still be seen in the Imperial War Museum.
Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh occupy twelve rooms in the north wing – opposite the 40-acre gardens. The State Apartments (including the Ballroom, Music Room and Throne Room) are reserved for official business. Most of these State Rooms can be visited during the Buckingham Palace Tour.
The tour visits just 19 of the Palace’s 661 rooms – but what rooms! It starts in the Ambassador’s Court and moves up the grand marble staircase. Walking past the Guard Room, you come to the Green Drawing Room, where Heads of State wait before greeting the Queen. These State Rooms – used for investitures, official banquets and meeting dignitaries – contain some of the richest decorations in Europe. The Throne Room will take your breath away. Imagine meeting the King and Queen in full regalia!
The Queen’s Gallery boasts one of the finest art collections in Europe – everything from Vermeer, Van Dyck and Rubens, to the Dutch master Rembrandt.
On from the Picture Gallery is the Silk Tapestry Room and Ballroom – where the Queen knights her worthy subjects. Then it’s on to the State Dining Room and Music Room.
The famous Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place at 11.30 on the Buckingham Palace forecourt, and lasts approximately 40 minutes – but you’ll have to arrive by 10 to get a place at the front.