I cannot even begin to tell you what an incredible experience it was, to visit Windsor Castle, the world’s oldest and largest perennially kept fortress. Besides being an exalted conception of bastions and turrets, this is also one of the principal residences of the Queen. You know she is home when you see the Royal Standard oscillating across the Round Tower. At the time I visited Windsor, the Queen was home, and so I could not get a peek at the lavish apartments and staterooms of the estate. However, our guide for the day did divulge some compelling information as we watched the Change in Guard ceremony. Settled in Berkshire, nearly 30-minutes from central London, Windsor Castle is the official host for royal gatherings and influential state events.
Even with a slender look at its majestic exteriors, I could tell that this weekend home of Queen Elizabeth II is a royal ensemble of 11th-century rich designs and undeniable Norman passions. This castle was first, built by King William during the Norman invasion and today, it is the world’s largest inhabited castle with 500 residents who live and work here. Five years after his triumphant intrusion in England, King William ordered for a sand and wood fortress to be erected, beside River Thames. Windsor Castle was then rebuilt in stone in 1170 by his great-grandson Henry II. Following which several succeeding sovereigns appended their imprint on this enormous castle. While Edward III added to it Gothic impressions, Charles II brought in baroque emulations, and George IV had his artisans ascertain Windsor’s character as that of a palace from the medieval era.
On the days, the Queen is away, guided tours introduce guests to the castle precincts split into lower, middle and upper wards. It’s during this tour that you also get to enjoy free audio tours across opulent state apartments, chapels and spaces that may otherwise be off-limits. Aforementioned-reconstruction(s) this grand castle houses about a thousand rooms in different architectural styles. Photography is prohibited in State Apartments and St. George Chapel though. Most natural stones used in this castle contain Silica or Quartz, ensuring that Windsor glitters as the sun pivots around it. Back in the days, architects placed a lot of thought in constructing weatherproof and attack-proof castles, the reason why they are still around with abiding repletion. And they concluded the construction by lacing the castle with long sidewalks, a trail of beautiful trees and expansive gardens.
Home to over thirty-nine monarchs, Windsor Castle, has held royal history in its arms ever since its foundation. Here is a list of some of the important-spaces that you must take a look at, while you are here.
A monumental staircase fringed by antiquated armour leads to overhead dramatic State Apartments oozing royalty with its decorated facades, paintings and chandeliers. Ten luxuriant chambers designed by Charles II are appointed, as the King’s and Queen’s Rooms. These rooms endure royal portraits and paintings by Bruegel, Gainsborough, Hans Holbein, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt and Van Dyck. The Grand Vestibule led by Queen Victoria’s statue has on display, riches and artefacts granted or won from the British Empire. Behind the State Apartments, is St George Hall, that still receives state banquets under a high rise ceiling wrapped in painted shields of the Knights of the Garter.
In the 1820s, The Inner Hall was designed by George IV as a welcoming sphere for official guests and heads of state. In 1866, this Hall was locked-down by Queen Victoria, and its admission was sealed, by a stone wall. The Hall was essentially used, as storage for nearly 150 years. In 2019, Inner Hall was reopened, to the public. During the refurbishment of this Hall, layers of paint were sliced, to unveil the elaborate regent ceiling by stuccoist Francis Bernasconi. On display are stone relics deemed to be structures built-by Henry I nearby 1110. The visitor entrance has been connected with the State Entrance Hall and offers an eternal landscape of the Long Walk.
St George’s Chapel
St George’s is a beautiful Gothic Chapel. In 1475, Edward IV nominated this chapel for the Order of the Garter. St George’s Chapel serves as a royal mausoleum along with Westminster Abbey. It is here Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in 2018. In the chapel, Henry VIII and Charles I sleep underneath the splendidly carved 15th-century Quire, wherein the Queen’s father George VI and mother Queen Elizabeth lie in an adjoining chapel. St George’s Chapel is closed on Sundays. On all other days, you may attend choral at 5.15 pm except on Wednesdays.
Queen Mary’s Dolls House
As you approach the State Apartments, halt at the Queen Mary’s Doll House to observe the astonishing masterpieces of ingenious miniaturisation. Demonstrating exceptional ‘attention to detail,’ this collection was designed and completed, by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1924. It is outfitted with operative plumbing and comprises of electric lights, flush toilets, miniature crown jewels, wine vault, silver setting and a squadron of six garage cars.
Albert Memorial Chapel
Devoted to Edward, 1240-built Albert Memorial Chapel was the holy place of worship for the Order of the Garter until St George’s Chapel became the official church. In 1861, when Prince Albert died in Windsor Castle, Queen Victoria obtained the chapel to be replaced as a memorial to her husband. It is then, a luxurious vaulted roof chartering Italian gold mosaic bits from Venice was added to the shaft. Even though the chapel carries a monumental tribute to Prince Albert, he is buried with Queen Victoria in the Royal Mausoleum in Windsor Great Park. Their youngest, Prince Leopold, is buried here.
Changing of the Guard Ceremony
I was overwhelmed to attend the ‘Changing of the Guard Ceremony,’ a fabled display of a military band dressed in red uniforms and bearskin caps. The march is underwritten, with triumphant melodies and ample foot-stamping. This ceremony draws large crowds to Windsor Castle at 11 AM on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Book your tickets online to avoid a queue. Upon arrival, a 30-minute free guided tour is given! British Army sets the schedule for ‘The Changing of the Guards’ ceremony. You cannot carry food items or drinks inside, so you will need to put them away in a concealed bag. If thirsty, buy bottled water from the Courtyard Shop near the entrance.