World Heritage: Royal Residence

Royal Residence

12 sites

7

Forbidden City

Last visited: May 19, 2013

The Forbidden City has the potential to be one of the world’s transcendent museum, but regrettably it fails to reach such lofty height. The Forbidden City indeed houses many amazing artefacts, but most of the very best were shipped to Taiwan by the Kuomingtang at the end of the civil war and are now under the management of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Moreover, the wooden buildings have dark interiors and limited display space, which make a poor venue for showcasing artefacts.

Also affecting the experience is the dissonance between how the authority tries to present the palace and its imperial lineage. There are stories and gossips of which popular emperor or concubine did what at where, but the human element of the millions of lives who once called this place home was mostly brushed aside to avoid the appearance of glorifying the imperialistic past.

Palace of Versailles

Last visited: August 21, 2007

Versailles is the granddaddy of all European palaces. You know what’s really expensive in 17th century France? Mirror. So guess what item did Louis XIV use extensively to decorate his showcase gallery? Mirror, naturally. 357 of them. That’s like finding a room filled with slabs of crystal in today’s equivalent. You like huge garden? Versailles’ is larger than 1,140 soccer fields. Want some marble? Grand Trianon and its pink marble is the place for you.

The crowd is suffocating, but after seeing Versailles you can skip almost every other European palaces and chateaus.

6

Palace of Fontainebleau

Last visited: June 29, 2014

Although Versailles has come to symbolize the classic French Renaissance chateau, Fontainebleau was completed earlier and was an inspiration for Versailles. While it doesn’t quite measure up to Versailles’ grandeur, it offers a more relaxing atmosphere as it sees very few visitors.

Wartburg

Last visited: June 9, 2011

Of all the castles I visited in Germany in 2011, I like Wartburg the most. It might not be the most picturesque or dramatically located, but in my opinion it is the most complete, with a rich history and an association with the German national identity.

5

Himeji-jō

Last visited: April 4, 2015

The most famous Japanese castle, after visiting this one you can probably skip the rest unless you have a strong affiliation to this kind of architecture.

Designed as both a royal residence and a fortress, the current complex, located atop Himeyama Hill, dates back to 1333 and has undergone several extensive expansions. Behind its formidable central moat (the outer moat is now buried) is a complex of 83 buildings including a three-story castle, storehouses, gates, corridors, and turrets. Traps, archers stations and gates form a substantive pre-firearm defensive system, one that stayed untested as the castle was never attacked. The interior of the residence is dark and unventilated, just like any other Japanese castles.

Sanssouci of Potsdam

Last visited: June 12, 2011

The crowd showed up in full force at Sanssouci, the former summer palace of Frederick the Great in Potsdam. I arrived at the ticketing office at 1:30 pm. The palace was accessible only with an official guided tour and I was able to get a spot at 16:45, which was the last tour of the day. The admission price was €8.

During the long wait, I covered the entire ground of Sanssouci Park, including the terraced gardens, the Chinese House and the New Palace, although none of the points of interest intrigued me enough to slow down my pace. What’s far more novel to me was the open policy adopted by the park management – the former royal park acted like a huge city park and was free for all to roam about. People were enjoying themselves under the warm glow of the sun. Some were biking, some were having beer, some were chasing their kids around… the relaxed atmosphere was a welcome departure from my accustomed experience of the confined spaces of European castles and palaces.

It was time to head back to Sanssouci Palace. The single-story villa contains twelve adjoining rooms which are thoroughly decorated in the Rococo style. The guide allowed around a minute or two in each room and the entire tour took fifteen minutes.

I came away with a mixed feeling: the palace was a little underwhelming and didn’t justify the long wait, yet without the long lineup I wouldn’t have spent a pleasant afternoon in Sanssouci Park.

4

Summer Palace

Last visited: May 19, 2013

The Summer Palace is a combination of the Qing emperor Qianlong’s beloved places in his kingdom, namely the West Lake in Hangzhou and Tibetan architecture. Having been to Hangzhou and Tibet, this royal compound offers very little for me to justify fighting inch for inch of personal space with hundreds of Chinese tourists.

3

Changdeokgung

Last visited: April 30, 2010

The only of the five royal palaces bestowed with the honour of World Heritage Site, the 45-hectare Changdeokgung was long a favorite of Joseon princes and differentiated itself by, according to UNESCO, “integrated into and harmonized with the natural setting” and adapted “to the topography and retaining indigenous tree cover.” Heavily damaged in the last century, today only 30% of its current buildings precede the 20th century.

Like many of South Korean historic attractions, it is difficult to feel excited about Changdeokgung when most of it was rebuilt only in recent decades.

Tower of London

Last visited: August 18, 2007

When I visited in 2007 I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw the entrance fee cost a whopping £17. I couldn’t put aside my sourness and I saw everything in a negative light. The complex, starting from the 930-year-old White Tower, might be steeped in history, but I found the visitor experience solely lackingThe rooms were dark and empty while large sections were cordoned off. Signage was lacking so often I was wondering aimlessly. The only saving grace was the Crown Jewels. 

2

Shiri-jō, Gusuku Sites of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Last visited: December 29, 2009

These are nine sites scattered across Okinawa Island that represent the culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a vassal state of first China then Japan until 1879, when it was formally incorporated as part of Japan. The most visited site is Shiri-jo, the kingdom’s palace that was completely destroyed during WWII and was only rebuilt in 1992.

I also visited the ruins of Nakagusuku-jo, a compound razed to the ground more than 500 years ago.

Drottningholm Palace

Last visited: February 25, 2014

Another Versailles imitation. I didn’t see its interior because the opening hours was very restrictive in winter. I did enjoy a long stroll in its garden, including the quirky Chinese Pavilion.

Boboli Gardens, Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany

Last visited: June 3, 2016

I never bothered with Boboli Gardens during my past three visits to Florence – why spend time and money walking around a garden? But since it has been inscribed as a WHS, on my latest visit to town I reluctantly shelled out €15 per person for a combo ticket and the privilege of ticking another one off my WHS list. The garden was a respite from Florence’s maddening crowd and offered some nice view across the Arno River, yet despite its inscription many free and more interesting places are in close proximity.

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