Europe's most beautiful castles

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The Palace of Versailles in France

The Palace of Versailles near Paris with its 1,800 rooms is one of the biggest palaces in Europe. French King Louis XIV had the magnificent building built as his residence in 1677. Versailles became a model many rulers in Europe tried to replicate with their own palaces.

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Peterhof Palace in Russia

Peterhof Palace, west of St. Petersburg, is known as the "Russian Versailles." The palace located on the Gulf of Finland was inaugurated in 1723 by Czar Peter the Great, who used it as a summer residence. It is probably best known for its water features including the Grand Cascade and the Samson Fountain.

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Topkapi Palace in Turkey

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul became the seat of power of the Ottoman Empire in the middle of the 15th century. The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings, which accommodated as many as 5,000 people who lived and worked in the palace.

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Windsor Castle in Great Britain

It is the largest inhabited castle in the world and the longest-occupied palace in Europe, but it also remains a functioning royal home, dating back to the reign of Henry I. The cornerstone was laid in 1078. Windsor Castle has also served as a garrison and a jail. These days it is the British monarch's main residence. When the queen is in residence, a flag flies over the Round Tower.

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Schönbrunn Palace in Austria

Nearly 300 years ago, Empress Maria Theresa turned Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna into the center of European court life. These days, some 3 million visitors come every day to admire the palace that dates back to the golden age of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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El Escorial in Spain

El Escorial near Madrid is 207 meters (679 feet) long and 161 meters across, making it is the biggest Renaissance building in the world - not surprising that the Spanish like to call it the Eighth Wonder of the World. The palace complex includes a monastery and the Pantheon of the Kings, a chamber with twenty-six marble sepulchers containing the remains of most Spanish kings and queens.

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Hluboká Castle in the Czech Republic

The former residence of the royal house of the Schwarzenberg Bohemian rulers is today one of the Czech Republic's most popular palaces. A must see at this tourist attraction is the collection of seventh century Belgian wallpapers.

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Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

King Ludwig II of Bavaria yearned to own a medieval-style knight's castle - so he had one built. The monarch, who had a foible for construction projects, apparently inspired by Wartburg Castle in Thuringia. But King Ludwig did not live to see it completed in 1886. These days his fairytale castle has found success as a huge tourist magnet.

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Doge's Palace in Italy

The doge was the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice. The splendid Doge's Palace served as his residence as well as a symbol for what was a major sea and trading power. The Venetian gothic style building has repeatedly been damaged by fire and rebuilt every time. As is often the case, the palace today serves as a museum.

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Pena National Palace in Portugal

Art historians often complain of this palace's unusual mix of eclectic styles, much in accordance with the exotic taste of the Romanticism - a combination that some regard as kitschy and even reminiscent of Disneyland. Tourists, however, love the palace in the town of Sintra. From the 14th century onwards, Pena Palace has been used by the Portuguese royal family as their summer residence.

Europe's castles and palaces attract millions of visitors every year. Their splendid architecture is the culmination of an old continent rich in history.

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