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Posts tagged ‘Palace’

Christmas Comes Home: St Petersburg Palace

Christmas is in full swing. Ridiculously there’s only a week to go! While that makes me panic ever so slightly, the best tranquiliser is to switch on some Christmas carols (or Nigella Lawson’s Christmas series on TV…oozing pure aesthetic) and sit in the warm glow provided by my beloved Christmas trees. Last week I shared with you my new kitchen-inspired carrot-laden scheme. Today I want to take you to frostier quarters, where elegance reaches an all time high: my tree inspired by a St Petersburg Palace.

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Replacing the annual real tree whose needles played havoc with my cream carpets, this year we have introduced a new 7ft snow sprayed false tree adorned with warm lights and begging for the fake polar-bear throw which is wrapped around the base of the tree and provides a wonderful soft landing for all those gold and white presents. On the snowy white branches, I added golden fern leaves for embellishment, and thus set the scene for my favourite ever set of decorations: an abundance of whites and golds and blues of every shade, all in homage to the glory and opulence of a Russian Christmas.

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Choosing Russia as a theme meant a stark contrast to the interior design of the bedroom setting which is very Mediterranean in feel. But what better way to get cold blue and warm gold into a tree theme than to translate the tones of a Mediterranean beach into the frosted splendour of a St Petersburg Palace. With its onion-roofed houses, night-sky baubles, glass whales, white nutcrackers and elegant Russian dolls, I love the way this design has pulled together. It is the ultimate bedroom tree and a true delight to both see out and see in these festive wintery days.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

A Windsor Weekend, Part I: The Castle

The myths and legends surrounding England’s valiant past are so intertwined with our history that it’s sometimes hard to remember what is fact and what is fiction. The tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a typical example of this, and while many have determined the magic surrounding Merlin to be the stuff of fairytales, the fable of King Arthur and his Knights certainly resonates as being a more realistic depiction of historical England. Whether or not the round table existed, the image it evokes – of brave knights, lion-emblazoned coats of arms, and of shiny coats of armour ridden into battle – very much captures a sense of the England of old. And if one place were to lift that image off the pages of legend and into the real light of day, it’s Windsor Castle.

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Grand, imposing and the very epitome of a medieval-style castle, Windsor is not only a historical monument worthy of legend itself. Rather it always has been, and continues to be a favourite royal residence, and today boasts the record as being the longest occupied palace in Europe, as well as the favourite weekend retreat and place of entertainment of the UK’s current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. With roots stretching right back to the Norman Conquest of 1066, Windsor Castle has been constantly remodelled and expanded to suit the tastes of each succeeding monarch, from the lavish baroque of Charles II to the Georgian flourishes of George IV and the modernisation of the Victorian and later eras.

While on the outside it appears as stark and imposing as a great stone castle should, on the inside it is very much a palace in the true sense of the word. While some rooms are emblazoned with sparkling armour, decorative weaponry and historical coats of arms, others are masterpieces in rococo and baroque, glistening with gold and chandeliers and filled with the most lavish of palatial furnishings. In 1992, much of this beauty was almost lost forever when a ferocious fire tore through the building and destroyed many of the most important State Rooms. But today, after an award winning restoration, Windsor is not only back to its beautiful self, but much improved, with many interim changes reversed to take the Castle design back to its early glory days.

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But Windsor is not just a single-building castle, but a complex with gardens, out-buildings and places of worship making up a mini town within a town. Chief amongst these ancillary sights is St George’s Chapel, which is probably one of the most beguilingly beautiful churches I have seen. Gleaming with light filtered through intricately conceived multi-coloured stained glass windows depicting the Kings and Queens of old, the chapel is a masterpiece of the perpendicular gothic. Its lattice stone-weaved ceiling is a work of genius, and in such a good condition that it is hard to think that for the most part, this is the work of 15th Century craftsmen. Its Quire (where the choir sing) is simply magical. The home of the Knights of the Garter, it is a true homage to all things Round Table, adding to the myth which surrounds British history and expressing in a stroke of true theatricality the historical importance of this preeminent body of royal knights. Meanwhile, peppered throughout the chapel are some of the most important monuments you are likely to see in any single one place in England: here lies Henry VIII, the Queen Mother, George V, George VI and Charles I to name but a few. And for those not buried here, monuments to the likes of Prince Albert and Princess Charlotte (who died in childbirth leading to the ascension of Queen Victoria) are masterpieces of pathos carved in stone and crafted in the suitably melodramatic Victorian aesthetic.

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Unfortunately the splendours of Windsor’s interiors are the preserve of the eyes only, as photography is banned throughout. I must therefore content myself with sharing with Daily Norm readers my photos of the joys of Windsor’s grounds, from the incredible exterior masonry and gothic façade of St George’s, to the beautiful moat gardens which, filled with roses, so perfectly soften the hard lines of this mighty castle beyond.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 3: Palaces of Gold

Not everything in Marrakech is pink. Masterpieces are carved out of a rich ochre stone with such intricate geometric embellishment that the stone itself seems to resemble sparkling, resplendent gold. This is the side of Marrakech from Sultans past, when the excesses of power and wealth produced some of the masterpieces of the world’s historical architecture.  The Daily Norm is no stranger to some of Islam’s most stunning architectural inventions, having indulged last summer in the jaw-droopingly extravagant craftsmanship of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. But in Marrakech, the journey continued, as ancient masterpieces unveiled themselves within narrow doorways in the crowded Souk, and from amongst the crumbling remains of former palaces. These are places both preceding and inspired by Granada’s famous gem, and no less beautiful in their masterful conception. Some are now in a very bad state indeed. The Badii Palace is a mere shadow of its former self. But across them all one common thread remains: the colour of ochre, butterscotch, Gold.

The Medersa Ben Youssef

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The photos on this page are dedicated to three such buildings which we explored during our trip to Marrakech. The Medersa Ben Youssef is perhaps the most extensively and impressively decorated, especially when you consider that it was an Islamic College rather than a palace. Its walls literally weep with honeycomb-like carvings and elaborated horseshoe arches, while perfection in symmetry imbues the space with a finessed tranquility spoilt only by the tourist hoards which inevitably occupy the space.

The Saadian Tombs

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Packed with tourists was likewise the trend exhibited by the Saadian Tombs, a complex of some 66 royal tombs which sounded like it was going to be substantial in the guidebook, but was actually little more than a single room preceded by a huge queue and whose entrance was forbidden. Rather tourists were granted a brief glimpse at the tomb room through a very narrow roped off doorway, and the brevity of their indulgence was kept carefully in check by a security guard who looked none too pleased by any such attempt to linger beyond a couple of photographs hastily composed. But it was worth the ill treatment: the tombs were stunning. I have never seen such a highly decorated space so compacted within a small area.

The Badii Palace 

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But perhaps our favourite of these golden palaces was the Badii Palace, which is funny really since it was also the least attractive in terms of decoration or embellishment. What took some 25 years to complete and was said to have been one of the most magnificent palaces ever constructed is today a mere skeleton of its former self, having had its riches brutally scrapped by a conquering sultan when he decided to move his centre of power elsewhere. Nonetheless there is a definite poetry in what remains, and an impressive sense of the scale of the original gauged from what is left behind. Best of all are the elegant storks who love to nest on the crumbling site, and probably made for the best photos of them all.

The Badii Storks 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Hampton Court Palace, Part 3: The Wild and the Wonderful

My blog is reading like something of a paid marketing campaign for Hampton Court Palace at the moment, which I promise is not the case. Such was the visual pleasure of my visit to Hampton Court that my photo stream ran on for miles. In seeking to share the best from that day, while losing nothing of the splendour of the aesthetic pleasures which a visit to the Palace entails, I have sought to split up my Daily Norm narrative into more bitesize pieces. First I told you about the Palace’s incredibly manicured gardens, followed shortly afterwards by a tour of the hybrid interior. Today I’m back out into the gardens, but this time to the Great Fountain Garden, and the Wilderness, a stunning grassy landscape which is ostensibly less controlled by gardeners and designers, although I suspect that in reality, this appearance of under-management is as meticulously choreographed as the rest.

The Great Fountain Garden and Home Park beyond

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There can be no doubt that Christopher Wren’s Baroque facade of Hampton Court Palace is best viewed from its mighty gardens, whose tree tree-lined avenues radiate outwards in a crow’s foot pattern towards a water-bounded semi-circular parterre. Those avenues, whose trees are perfectly clipped to create cloud like green forms, provide a theatrical foreground beyond which the Palace can play a leading role as it glows, mighty and red, in perfect contrast with its green surroundings. If William and Mary of Orange had intended to compete with Versailles, it is clear that they gave good game, not least with the extensive Long Water canal which extends into Home Park beyond, magnifying both the scale of the grounds, but also reflecting the Palace in its mirrored surface. For us, a walk in these gardens proved to be unforgettable. We were enamoured not only by the dramatic landscape, where we felt like strolling into a Sunday evening period drama, but also by the peace and tranquillity which could be found there, away from the shrieks of children lost in the famous maze and closer to the stags and deer who could be seen grazing so majestically nearby.

But what the Great Fountain Garden gave in drama, the Wilderness oozed in bucolic tranquillity. Appearing almost wild, this semi-woodland full to the brim with long grasses and beds entirely given over to daffodils was one of my absolute highlights of the visit. As the sun started to dip behind the yellow petals in the late afternoon, a heavenly light seemed to fall over the place, fragmented as it was in an easy peppering of dappled sunlight, as low lying trees burst forth new pale green leaves. The effect was so transformative that I expected a lady in a long flowing dress and a gentleman in a top hat to wander into the scene at any moment. This was surely an impressionist moment worthy of Monet’s brush?

The untamed beauty of the Wilderness

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This day’s final acquaintance with the grounds of Hampton Court served as yet further illustration of the diversity of the gardens which make this Palace much more than its interiors. With their riverside location and semi-rural sensation, it was hard to imagine that we were a mere 30 minutes from the hectic heart of London. Thus we were transformed, not just by history, but by the green and verdant landscape which immersed us in an earthly paradise one very happy Sunday afternoon.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 2: Bipolar Palace

For me, Hampton Court Palace is all about its gardens, or at least it certainly was when I visited, and outside the fragile glass which history has maintained within the ancient woodwork of the Palace’s hundred-fold windows, the sun shone with a rare early glimpse of British Summer in Spring. Yet there is something unapologetically festive about the hallowed halls of the Tudor-come-Baroque palace, which I’m sure on a colder day would be all the more enchanting. For Hampton Court Palace has the power to ensnare like no other.

Tudor exteriors

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First it is characterised by the glamorous myth which surrounds the British Tudor Dynasty. Whether it be the 6 wives of Henry VIII who were either divorced, beheaded, died (naturally) or survived, the great religious schism triggered by Henry’s thirst for a male heir, the very bloody Queen Mary, or the flame-haired majesty of England’s favourite Queen, Elizabeth I, the Tudors are the stuff of legends, not just in English classrooms, but around the world. Seen as the very archetype of Britain in the Middle Ages, Hampton Court Palace was, and remains, the backdrop of that tumultuous time, and today its walls literally echo with wealth of that history, ghosts and all.

Tudor interiors

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Secondly, the Palace is enticing because of its dual personality. A very Tudor entrance, a grand hall and a suite of wood panelled, stained glass rooms lead swiftly on to a complete architectural about-turn, as the gothic metamorphoses into the palatial Baroque, and a construct more akin to Versailles emerges from behind the forest of Tudor chimneys. This great change was the result of a complete renovation project began by King William and Queen Mary of Orange when they moved into the palace in the late 1600s and who felt the need to modernise, largely to compete with the Sun King in France. Sweeping aside whole swathes of Henry VIII’s palace, they replaced it with a grand symmetrical construct based around quadrangles of triple rowed grandiose windows, elaborately frescoed interiors, and a new landscape of neatly geometric flowerbeds and fountains. However they ran out of money before the restauration was complete, and it is for this reason that today’s Palace is the hybrid of Tudor and Baroque, something for which we must be grateful – how else could we explore a slice of the grandeur at the heart of the Tudor Dynasty which today remains so remarkably intact.

The Baroque alter ego  

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The photos which are shared in the post give a flavour of the great contrast between the Tudor and the Baroque aspects of Hampton Court. What perhaps the Tudor side lacks in elaborately frescoed ceilings it makes up for in colourful stained glass and the stunning gothic ceiling of the Royal Chapel. And what the Baroque side lacks in stag heads and grand vaulted ceilings it instead replaces with wide sweeping staircases and rooms flooded with light from the masterfully manicured garden beyond. All in all, this is a tale of two Palaces, offered, very conveniently, to be enjoyed all at one time.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 1: Manicured Gardens

It’s always a wonderful thing to discover that an incredible attraction can be found on your doorstep. And somewhere which is literally 30 minutes by train from your nearest station is not so far from doorstep status, especially when you consider the extent to which those short 30 minutes have the power to transform you from inner city jungle to utter bucolic majesty. Such was my discovery last weekend upon visiting the former home of Henry VIII and his 6 variously fated wives, Hampton Court Palace, which can be found nestling alongside the banks of the Thames a few meandering loops down the river. Our trip to this vast palatial complex was so astounding, so plenteous in its beauty that I have decided to split my experience in three for the sake of The Daily Norm, so that a focus can be had on the various facets that make Hampton Court so incredible.

I must admit that it’s the gardens which really thrill me at Hampton Court. The inside has its merits, naturally. The Chapel Royal is pretty much one of the most stunning historic spaces in the United Kingdom. But the interiors also have the potential to disconcert, as one is led from the Tudor quarters, steeped in the gothic gloom of the age, to the more luminescent baroque rebuild instituted by William and Mary of Orange in the late 17th Century. The result is fragmentary and disorientating. It is like visiting two very distinct palaces, albeit that from the outside, there is a certain level of unity achieved by the uniform use of a rich pink stone. And it is outside where this little photographic tour begins.

The Privy Garden and the Banqueting House

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In my naivety, I thought that a visit during April may be too early to enjoy the gardens. How wrong I was, for the timing enabled us to enjoy the most spectacular array of Spring flowers I have ever seen. In the Privy Garden, the elegant South-facing walled garden extending towards the River’s edge and containing rows of manicured conical hollies and yews lining a perfectly geometric system of paths, tulips in vibrant shades of red and yellow danced in the sunlight and contrasted brilliantly against sky blue hyacinths which filled the air with their fragrance. In the cosy walled Pond Gardens just beyond, the abundance of flowers increased as floral collections were displayed in rich strata of contrasting height and colour to create a ravishing spectacle of nature’s brilliance. I don’t think I ever saw such a variety of tulips, nor so well choreographed an exhibition of this glorious Spring flower.

The Pond Gardens, the Knot Garden and the Orangery 

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This gardening brilliance continued into a small knot garden, laid out in 1924 to recreate the gardens as they would have been during the Tudor dynasty, and in the Lower Orangery Garden, which flowed from Queen Mary’s passion for collecting exotic plants. Of course the gardens of Hampton Court extend much further than those on this Southern expanse – The Great Fountain Garden is so grand as to be worthy of a post all of its own – and will surely get one in a few days time… But for now, I wanted to share photos of these more manicured gardens. Spaces so vividly enriched by their floral abundance, and so satisfyingly regimental in their layout and design that I could have remained there admiring them forever, especially during these happy days of Spring.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Greatness of Granada, Part 2: The Alhambra

Few places in all the world have the power to arrest the eyes and ensnare the heart quite like the Alhambra in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Glowing every shade of ochre, and pale gold through to deep russet and coral red, it is no wonder that in arabic, the name of the fortress like construct means “The Red One”. But the true treasures of the Alhambra lie in wait inside, where room after room of twisting, tangling geometric patterns, forests of marble columns, and incredibly carved honeycomb like domes seem to reach up into infinity. It is a place which offers visitors a vision from paradise, even when it is (as always) hosting its daily quota of tourists, a sensation augmented by the plethora of pools and trickling waterways, magnifying the space with reflection and filling its stone halls with the gentle harmony of trickles and splashes.

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Originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, the complex was constructed into its current state of glory by the Emirate of Granada in the 13th century. Converted into the most lavish royal palace the world had ever seen, it was revered by the reconquering Christians when they took the city in 1492, becoming part of the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and subsequent monarchs. While they embellished the site in turn with Renaissance-style palaces which didn’t quite live up to the beauty of the Moorish offerings, they did so at least in the same glowing gold stone thus creating the complete whole which now permanently characterises the landscape of Granada. Shockingly, the palace was later allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, until it was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, becoming the favourite of Romantic-age travellers and inspiring generations of artists, poets, and writers since.

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Today, unsurprisingly, the site is UNESCO protected and is a ravishing complex of echoing courtyards and colonnaded porticos each enjoying the most incredible views over to the Albayzín below. Lucky then that these hallowed halls should be salvaged for generations to come, where we can but imagine the lives of kings and their hareems languishing in the finest coloured silks by reflective pools and in throne rooms built for the imperial best. Beyond, of course, are the gardens, perhaps the most sensually lavish spectacles of all. But those wonders of nature and man’s creative touch I will leave for another day.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.