Also known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster is one of London’s most iconic architectural landmarks and tourist attraction. It serves as the meeting place of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and lies on the northern bank of the River Thames, with three towers rising above.
It was in the 11th century that the first royal palace was built on the site but this was destroyed in 1512 and again in 1834, with Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen's, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower the only medieval structures to have survived. It was Charles Barry who was tasked with reconstructing the palace in the Gothic Revival style seen today, while the interiors are largely attributed to Augustus Pugin.
The most famous of the Palace's surrounding towers is the Elizabeth Tower (which is more commonly known as Big Ben) that houses the Great Clock of Westminster. Rising to 96 meters in height, it has been striking on the hour since 1859 while the four-quarter bells strike the Westminster Chimes every quarter-hour. Big Ben takes its name from the largest of the tower’s five bells, the Great Bell of Westminster, which weighs more than 13 tons.
The tallest tower atop the Palace of Westminster is the 98-meter-high Victoria Tower, which features the Sovereign’s Entrance at its base. This is where the monarch arrives when entering the palace and it is richly decorated with sculptures of saints and Queen Victoria. Also of note is the octagonal Central Tower, which is the shortest of the three main towers and is used to ventilate the palace.
A World Heritage Site
The Palace of Westminster functions as the center of political life in the United Kingdom and it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. It stands as one of the biggest parliament houses in the world, with more than 1,200 rooms in total and over three kilometers of corridors.