Destination List > Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Informally known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England.
Its name, which comes from the neighbouring Westminster Abbey, may refer to several historic structures but most often: the Old Palace, a medieval building-complex largely destroyed by fire in 1834, or its replacement, the New Palace that stands today. The palace is owned by the monarch in right of the Crown and, for ceremonial purposes, retains its original status as a royal residence. Committees appointed by both houses manage the building and report to the Speaker of the House of Commons and to the Lord Speaker.
The first royal palace constructed on the site dated from the 11th century, and Westminster became the primary residence of the Kings of England until fire destroyed the royal apartments in 1512. The remainder of Westminster continued to serve as the home of the Parliament of England, which had met there since the 13th century, and also as the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice, based in and around Westminster Hall. In 1834 an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and the only significant medieval structures to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, and the Jewel Tower.
After the fire, a competition was held for the reconstruction of the Palace. The architect Charles Barry won with a design for new buildings in the Gothic Revival style, inspired by the English Perpendicular Gothic style of the 14th–16th centuries. The remains of the Old Palace (except the Jewel Tower) were incorporated into its replacement, which contains over 1,100 rooms organised around two series of courtyards. Part of the New Palace's land was reclaimed from the River Thames, which is the setting of its nearly 300-metre long (980 ft) façade, called the River Front.
Construction started in 1840 and lasted for 30 years, suffering great delays and cost overruns, as well as the death of both leading architects. Work on the interior decoration continued well into the 20th century. Major conservation work has taken place since then to reverse the effects of London's air pollution, and extensive repairs followed the Second World War, including the reconstruction of the Commons Chamber following its bombing in 1941.
The Palace is one of the centres of political life in the United Kingdom. The Elizabeth Tower, often referred to by the name of its main bell, Big Ben, has become an iconic landmark of London. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia called the new palace "a dream in stone". The Palace of Westminster has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.