Official Residences: Where the Leaders Live
Back in August I detailed the seizure of the lavish apartment owned by Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of Equatorial President Mbsaogo, in Paris. The story was not too shocking; of course world leaders, especially financially corrupt world leaders (strangely enough, these are often from devastating third world countries) live in lavish lairs that couldn’t be more different from their citizens cottages if they tried(the fact that there is a private apartment in Paris that can fit a gym, bowling alley, hair salon and multiple-car underground garage did surprise me; I find everything in Europe to be quite small). The Le Monde article also gave me a moment’s pause as to where the president of France resided (duh tu con! L’Elysee bien sir!) which made me realize how little one hears about official residences so the, well official terminology goes.
And why is that? We’re constantly bombarded with pictures of celebrity mansions and ‘poppin” pads in the tabloids or home/architecture magazines, and you can find various lists online of the hottest hotels, the most expensive hotels, the most outrageous hotels…. So why do we never hear anything about official residences?
(The answer is probably simple, i.e. displaying the obvious gap in wealth between the head of state and most citizens would call public discontent, or that, for security reasons, heads of state don’t want to show the layouts of their homes in case anyone gets any wrong ideas).
In the past, official residences (better known as castles, palaces, manors and the like) inspired both their inhabitants and public with their creation (think Versailles, or the Forbidden Calace-still the site of China’s modern prez). Castles meant business; they were all pomp and circumstance, meant to show a persons might. Lets face it: although the public would love to see their ruler living alongside then in a squalid headquarters, they know that a official residence is not going to look like their house (unless, of course, they’re a billionaire).
The irony here is that most official residences are actually less luxe then many a millionaire or billionaire’s private pad; walking around the Hamptons alone will tell you that. A review of the boring and the bold:
Ah, the White House. A year ago when I went to Washington, D.C. and covered it in this blog I wrote how unaffected I was by it’s style. My opinions have not changed. Also, I find it kind of funny that it’s called a ‘house,’ but I guess ‘palace’ (as many other ORs go by) would have been too smacking of the royal for our Founding, Democratic, Fathers.
Buckingham Palace, England: So I know this is the Royal Family’s address and not the Prime Minister’s, and I know there are other royal residences, but as far as Official Residences go Buckingham Palace is underwhelming. Besides that huge fence topped with fleur-de-lys, which I was rather fond of when I visited in 2004, the building is architecturally uninspiring for the Great UK’s Queen Mother.
Palace Elysee, France: I passed the palace again, like the White House, quite unwittingly one hot end-of-summer day as I began my study-abroad experience and was traipsing around Paris. I had been walking past the gardens and noticed a lot of official-looking cars and gaurds and then realized what I was looking at. The Palace is nicer looking than the White House-it’s just so French-and it has a beautiful location, but it could be a lot more substantial; after all, c’est la belle France!
The Kremlin, Russia: Now here’s an ostentatious Western OR, and one that also happens to have an interesting history. The Kremlin has long been the cite of Russian rule, dating all the way back to 1147; the Great Kremlin Palace was built in the 1840s. Although the 700-room Palace could be a little more architecturally interesting on the outside, it has magnificent river views and the rest of the complex is fascinating enough to make up for it. It’s a pity such an, ahem, nice man gets to live there (Putin, I’m looking at you).
Beit Aghion, pm, Israel: It kind of surprises me that the Zionists who run Israel didn’t build a magnificent headquarters; in fact, with Beit Aghion, they didn’t even build at all: the house was built for a rich merchant in the 1930s and even used as a hospital during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. You would think they’d build something far removed from society-the fact that it’s in Jerusalem, and not Tel Aviv, which is solely run by the Israelis, is also perplexing. But if they were looking for real estate, why didn’t they just take over Government House, which was where the British ruled the country from until 1945? Now that was an official residence! And yes, my information came from wikipedia; apparently, photographs aren’t allowed of the house, since only about 3 came up in a Google search. Really. Take a look!
4. Heliopolis Palace, Egypt: I’d driven past Heliopolis Palace when President Mubarak was still in power; at the time, my husband’s brother was a guard out front there, so it was kind of neat to see him standing there in his uniform. Heliopolis is more removed from the hoi polloi than Abedeen, the other official residence, but despite the fact that it was originally the Heliopolis Hotel (and billed as one of the most luxurious at that,) I’m not too impressed by the pictures that exist. Maybe President Morsi should take over the Baron Empain Palace, a spectacularly spooky building (also in Heliopolis) that they use for movie premieres.
5. Ak Orda, Kazakhstan: I don’t know why Sacha Baron Cohen decided to parody Kazakhstan in his film Borat, because their Official Residence has got to be one of the coolest out there. The front looks a little like the White House, but that blue dome is seriously impressive, and the interiors-see the link below, a great tourism blog on Kazakhstan-are modern, spacious and quite striking, much like some of the other rather-unique architecture sprouting up in the city. I’m beginning to feel that Kazakhstan is unfairly overlooked on the tourism scale…
6. Türkmenbaşy Palace, Turkmenistan: Like it’s ‘stan’ neighbor, Turkmenistan is rocking one cool OR, complete with it’s own spiked dome (this time in a more ostentatious gold). The building looks a little small, but it’s got a cool sort of moat/reflecting pond in front of it, and the area looks suspiciously unguarded, spacious and open to the public. Wait, a president that is accessible by his public? Mais non!
The Royal Palace,Tonga: Located in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa, the Tonganese OR is rightfully one of the strangest OR’s in the world. The ‘wooden palace’ was built in 1864, according to the government’s palace website, and is still fully in use by the government and royal family which presides over Tonga. The place looks tiny, and is certainly smaller than houses I’ve been in; it looks like someone’s quaint little beach house that they spend their summers at, not the home of an official leader-and certainly not by a King and Queen! Then again, I certainly wouldn’t mind living in what amounts to a little white-painted dollhouse with even tinier furniture and decorations inside; perhaps the King would like to trade with me?
(In fact, if any of the world leaders–even you, Mr. President–would like to go on vacation, I’d be glad to house sit!)