Windsor Castle is one of the biggest castles in the world and according to its website the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It has since been the home to British Kings and Queens for 39 generations.
The castle was built by King William I The Conqueror, who reigned 1066-1087. The castle is thus more than 900 years old! The King himself chose the site for the castle high above the river Thames and near a hunting ground. The building of the fortress started around the year 1070 and took 16 years. It was King Henry II who in the late 12th century converted the castle into a palace with two sets of royal apartments. He also had the timber walls replaced by stone. Under King Henry III the castle was again rebuilt and a new chapel was added. Under King Edward III the military fortification became a Gothic palace. He wanted to use the palace for official business but also private. So he had a gatehouse with towers built and more royal apartments. The work was finished under King Richard II in the late 14th century.
No huge changes were made until the 17th century, but under Queen Elizabeth I the castle urgently needed to be repaired. Improvements were made in the 1570s, and King Charles II modernised the royal apartments. King George III and King George IV had lots of work done and also had the exterior of the castle transformed into a Gothic palace. No need for their successors to do any more work for a while.
However on 20 November 1992 a fire broke out in the private chapel of Queen Victoria and could only be extinguished after 15 hours. The ceilings of St George’s Hall were destroyed, as well as 115 rooms including nine state rooms. Luckily only two works of art were lost. Restoration work started immediately and some damaged areas even had to be redesigned. It took five years to complete the restoration.
The castle now
The present Queen still uses the property regularly at weekends and takes up official residence for a month over Easter. When the royal standard flies from the Round Tower she is there. She also uses the castle for formal duties such as state visits and investiture ceremonies. In June she spends a week at the castle when attending the service of the Order of the Garter and attends Royal Ascot. The castle also houses the Royal Archives and the Royal Photograph Collection.
But of course people can also visit the castle. Many parts, including the State Apartments, the dolls’ house of Queen Mary, St George’s Chapel and the Albert Memorial Chapel can be seen.
At the moment changes at the castle are underway. George IV’s Inner Hall is being opened up and restored as an entrance hall. The ticket hall is being enlarged, there will be more visitor facilities and step-free access throughout the castle. The State Entrance will become part of the visitor route, whereas people also get a choice of route throughout the castle. Also the old medieval undercroft is to become the first permanent café of the castle. There will also be a learning centre.
Windsor itself is a busy town. The castle is near the railway station, shops and restaurants. Windsor also has its own Legoland with a great view at Windsor Castle from near the entrance. It is easy to spend lots of hours here.