Deep in the heart of London there’s a scandalously overlooked gem that goes by the name of Banqueting House. It’s fancy and opulent in every way imaginable, and here’s why you should visit it this weekend if the heat gets a bit too much.
What’s this lesser-known palace all about then?
Shimmy on down Whitehall and you’ll stumble upon Banqueting House, a 400-year-old marvel originally built for pomp royal masques and debauched ceremonies. A thing of imposing scale and elegant architecture, it’s the only remaining part of Henry VIII’s Whitehall Palace and has played an important role in British international politics since it was built back in 1622. The place is now mainly used to greet ambassadors and heads of state – from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama – from all over the world. Oh, and it’s the last room in London Charles I saw before he lost his head on a scaffold in front of the house in 1649. Grim.
Tell us more!
Believe it or not, Banqueting House was the first building in England to be completed in the neoclassical style. Begun in 1619, the grand house was designed by east Londoner Inigo Jones, a famous fellow credited with starting the classical architecture boom we all see in London and throughout the country today. It’s actually the third Banqueting House to have stood on this site (the first two were destroyed by fires) and legend has it that during the Great Fire of London Sir Christopher Wren blew up the adjacent building to stop the fire destroying Jones’s masterpiece.
Why should I go there?
The art. Just look at it:
How much art are we talking?
Nine enormous canvases painted by Flemish Renaissance master Peter Paul Rubens. They are the only Rubens works you can still see in their original location. Charles I paid £3,000 (millions in today’s money) to have the ceiling commissioned to honour his late father, James I. In each canvas, you can see countless mythical beings, angels, gods, goddesses and figures of the Old Testament celebrating the reign of the old king. Luckily these paintings survived the wrath of Cromwell because they were too high up to destroy or sell off during Britain’s time as a republic. Phew!
Anything else I should know?
Because the place is so drop-dead gorgeous, it’s often rented out for private functions, so double check for closures on the Historic Royal Palaces website before you visit.
Want more things to do this weekend? Check out these 13 stunning green spaces.