While the Roman Catholic Church is synonymous with the Eternal City (and Italian capital), the greatest monument from its medieval heyday actually stands in southern France. The relic of the Papacy’s brief departure from Rome, the Palais des Papes (“Palace of the Popes”) in Avignon is the largest Gothic palace ever built. Constructed in two main phases by two of its residents, the Palais des Papes is a grandiose architectural expression of the wealth and power of the eleven popes who called Avignon their home and base of power.
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As the heart of Imperial China from 1421 until 1912, the Forbidden City—a palatial complex in the center of Beijing—represented the divine authority of the Emperors of China for over five hundred years. Built by the Ming Emperor Zhu Di as the centerpiece of his ideal capital city, the palace would host twenty-four different emperors and two dynasties over the course of its history. Even after the subsequent democratic and communist revolutions that transformed China in the early 20th Century, it remains as the most prominent built relic of a cosmopolitan empire.
Looming over the small Bavarian town of Hohenschwangau are the turrets and towers of one of the world’s most famous “fairytale” castles. Schloß Neuschwanstein, or “New Swan Stone Castle,” was the fantastical creation of King Ludwig II – a monarch who dreamed of creating for himself an ideal medieval palace, nestled in the Alps. Though designed to represent a 13th-century Romanesque castle, Neuschwanstein was a thoroughly 19th-century project, constructed using industrial methods and filled with modern comforts and conveniences; indeed, without the technological advancements of the time, Ludwig could never have escaped into his medieval fantasy.