Gilded ornaments and sumptuous linens are standard fare within the walls of the world’s five most obscenely luxurious palaces. Created for ruling officials and their family members, some of these buildings remain inhabited for official use. Other structures have emerged as important cultural landmarks within their respective countries after conversion to art and history museums. What they all have in common, however, is their jaw-dropping opulence!
1. Dolmabahce Palace – Turkey
Located along the European side of the Bosphorus strait coastline, this massive, elegant complex once served as the headquarters of the storied Ottoman Empire. Built during the mid-19th century, Dolmabahce Palace seamlessly blends a variety of architecture styles; Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and Turkish designs all came together to form a truly unique external and internal design scheme.
The imposing external façade houses a truly decadent interior. 285 rooms and 45 halls were divided into three distinct areas for use by officials and their family members. 14 tons of gold leaf covers the ceiling, while the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier illuminates the center hall. Dolmabahce also holds the largest collection of Baccarat crystal, even incorporating the material into one of its great staircase designs. While the palace boasts countless bedrooms with wondrous decor and furnishings, the most-visited one is that which served as the deathbed of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the legendary founder of the modern Turkish republic.
Protocol dictated the interior design scheme. Tables bear the royal emblem, while curtains and most furnishings are a deep shade of regal red. Porcelain vases and 150-year-old bearskin rugs are a part of the furnishings for a palace known in English as The Filled Garden. These days, the palace is open for public tours, receiving thousands of curious visitors each day.
2. Catherine Palace – Russia
Catherine Palace was a refuge for Russian Czars looking to get away from the sweltering summers of Moscow. Located just outside St. Petersburg, Empress Elizabeth commissioned the Rococo design scheme in the mid-17th century. In Empress Elizabeth’s eyes, the original designs were outdated. The palace became synonymous with luxury after her upgrades were completed.
Gold leaf covered building exteriors, while numerous statues gazed down upon guests from the rooftop. A formal garden graced the front of palace grounds and an outdoor pavilion featured dumbwaiters to facilitate al fresco dining. This was just a preview of what Catherine Palace had to offer; a series of formal rooms feature intricate paintings on the ceiling, while windows in the Great Hall gaze out directly over adjacent gardens. In the White Formal Dining Room, a mural of Apollo watched over the Empress and her guests. Later improvements included walls lined with apricot silk and inlaid floors of mahogany and rosewood. Catherine Palace is also home to the famous Amber Room, which is embellished with amber panels, gold leaf and tons of mirrors.
3. Palazzo Pitti – Italy
One of Florence’s largest art galleries was once a luxurious palace. Situated on the River Amo, an Italian banker originally commissioned the residence. Palazzo Pitti stands out due to its Romanesque exterior design; thanks to seven carefully placed arches, the building resembles an ancient aqueduct. This gave the palace an imposing classical appearance against the modern city skyline.
Upon entering the palace grounds, guests immediately pass through a garden and large courtyard. Statues of animals, slaves and plants are hidden away in a grotto that also houses a fountain. Frescoes and elaborate stuccowork decorate the first floor rooms. Four-poster beds are some of the furnishings found within royal living spaces.
The transition from active palace to art museum started during the 18th century, but royals continued to use the premises for official business until the 1920s. The entire palace was eventually converted to a public art museum, which it remains to this day.
4. Abdeen Palace – Egypt
It took 10 years for a French architect to design Abdeen Palace. Decorators from Egypt, Italy, France and Turkey used 2 million Egyptian pounds (EGP) to furnish all 500 rooms. This figure eclipsed total building costs, which only amounted to approximately 700,000 EGP. Abdeen is named for Abdeen Bey, owner of the land, which housed the former royal court for Egypt.
Many people consider Abdeen to be the most luxurious palace in the world. Layers of pure gold cover paintings and clocks located throughout the building. A series of museums are located on the ground floor, including military and Presidential gifts. Visiting dignitaries still use the upper levels, so little information is available regarding the former living quarters of the Egyptian royal family.
5. Palacio da Alvorada – Brazil
One of the younger structures on the list belongs to the country of Brazil. Palacio da Alvorada, or Palace of Dawn, was built in the late 1950s. The structure epitomizes contemporary architecture, with glass walls supported by rail-like external columns. Features of the three-story building include an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a library, and a separate chapel area.
Gold covered walls greet arriving guests as statues silently stand guard in the mezzanine area, where floor to ceiling windows offer unobstructed garden views. Designers made the expansive stateroom feel slightly more intimate by creating smaller nooks with area rugs and small, soft chairs. Mirrors line the entire wall of the music room, making the hardwood floors seem like they go on forever.
In 2004, First Lady Marisa Leticia started palace renovations to replace antiquated pieces with contemporary furniture. Careful research was undertaken to ensure that all items remained true to the original design scheme. It took 2 years and 18.4 million United States dollars (USD) to return Palacio da Alvorada to its former glory.
Many people can only dream of palace living. These elaborate structures were once a requirement for royalty and other government officials, as they sought to dazzle their subjects with shows of power and wealth. While most of their respective rulers were removed from power long ago, these luxurious residences are no less dazzling to behold today than they were at the prime of their existence. If you’re fortunate enough, your travels may well take you to one of them some day!