HYDERABAD: Of late, Windsor Castle is much in the news as the British Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her 90th birthday. It is an official residence of the queen and the largest occupied castle in the world. A royal home and fortress for over 900 years, the castle remains a working palace even today. The queen uses the castle both as a private home, where she usually spends the weekend, and as a royal residence at which she undertakes certain formal duties.
Every year the queen takes up official residence in Windsor Castle for a month over Easter (March-April), known as Easter Court. During that time the queen hosts occasional ‘dine and sleeps’ events for guests, including politicians and public figures. The queen is also in residence for a week in June, when she attends the service of the ‘Order of the Garter’ and the ‘Royal Ascot Race’ meeting.
Situated in the English county of Berkshire, Windsor Castle is a busy tourist attraction. Many parts of the castle are open to the public, including the precincts, the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s famous Dolls’ House, St. George’s Chapel, and the Albert Memorial Chapel.
The castle is notable for its long association with the British royal family and for its architecture. The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I, it has been used by succeeding monarchs and it is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.
Windsor Castle occupies a large site of more than thirteen acres, combines the features of a fortification, a palace, and a small town. The present-day castle was created during a sequence of phased building projects, culminating in the reconstruction work after a fire in 1992. It is in essence a Georgian and Victorian design based on a medieval structure, with Gothic features reinvented in a modern style. Since the 14th century, architecture at the castle has attempted to produce a contemporary reinterpretation of older fashions and traditions, repeatedly imitating outmoded or even antiquated styles. The imposing towers and battlements of the castle loom large from every approach to the town, creating one of the world’s most spectacular skylines.
On 20 November 1992, a major fire occurred at Windsor Castle, lasting for fifteen hours and causing widespread damage to the Upper Ward. The Private Chapel in the north-east corner of the State Apartments was being renovated as part of a long term programme of work within the castle, and it is believed that one of the spotlights being used in the work set fire to a curtain by the altar during the morning.
What strikes many people used to visiting historic ruins or attractions with a ‘preservation’ or museum like atmosphere is that Windsor Castle is in pristine condition and is fully working. The magnificent State Apartments are furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection. The art collection on display is very impressive. Works of great masters like Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci etc are on display here.
Queen Mary’s Doll’s House is a masterpiece in miniature, suitable for royalty complete with miniature crown jewels. The viewing area is quite dark. On exiting there are display cabinets of costumes. Photography is not allowed. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (architect of New Delhi) in 1924, every piece in the house was specially commissioned and made to scale (12:1). Different pieces of furniture were created by well-known designers of the time. All the plates are porcelain, and even royal treasures are made of real gems and gold. All the mechanical and electrical equipment in the doll’s house really works. When it was first created, one could actually flush a toilet.
When The Queen is in official residence, ‘Changing the Guard’ provides a colourful spectacle in the quadrangle, which is very fascinating to watch. It takes place between 11:00 and 11:30 which is very similar to the one at Buckingham Palace. Visitors congregate in the parade ground by the main exit in front of St George’s Chapel and the interesting spectacle lasts for 30 minutes.
St George’s Chapel is one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England. Within the chapel are the tombs of ten sovereigns, including Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, and Charles I. The gothic architecture is very impressive, especially the roof. Perhaps the most fascinating and differentiating factor of this chapel from similar churches and abbeys is the order of the garter, an English order of chivalry with a history stretching back to medieval times. Membership of the Order is extremely limited and includes the monarch of the United Kingdom, the Prince of Wales and not more than twenty-five companion members. Members are each assigned a stall in the chapel choir above which his or her heraldic devices are displayed. Don’t you think a visit to England should include a trip to the Windsor Castle too?