Windsor Castle is (along with Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh) one of the principal official residences of the British monarch, who always stays there at Easter and during "Royal Ascot" week (in June) at the nearby Ascot Racecourse; as well as for various weekend retreats throughout the year. It is the largest occupied castle in the world, and among the oldest.
The castle is located in the Thames Valley to the west of London, in the Berkshire town of Windsor. It was originally built by William the Conqueror to act as a line of defence for London and has since had many additions and improvements. King Edward III made its St. George's Chapel the home of the Order of the Garter in 1348. Today the inhabited wing of the castle mostly dates to within the last two centuries, much of it built under George IV.
The castle's layout dates back to the mediaeval fortifications. The lower ward (at the bottom of the accompanying illustration) is home to St. George's Chapel, while the upper ward (at the top) contains the royal apartments and grand state rooms (such as St. George's Hall, whose ceiling is decorated with the coats of arms of all the knights of the garter). The two wards are separated by the round tower, a descendant of the original motte of William the Conqueror's castle. The immediate environs of the castle called "The Home Park" also contains the school (St.Georges, Windsor Castle) that provides choristers to the Chapel.
One of the most popular tourist attractions at Windsor Castle is Queen Mary's Dolls' House, a 1:12 model (designed by Edwin Lutyens) of a house suitable for a monarch in the early 20th century.
Some of the important events which have occurred at Windsor Castle:
During the first world war, the royal family felt the need to change its dynasty name from the German "House of Saxe Coburg-Gotha"; they took their new name from the castle, becoming the "House of Windsor."
On November 20 1992, a significant part of the upper ward of Windsor Castle (including St. George's hall) was damaged by fire. The fire started in the Private Chapel, raged for 15 hours, and seriously damaged the northwest side of the building. An investigation found that the fire was ignited after a spotlight came into contact with a curtain over an extended period. In order to meet the £40 million repair bill several royal residences were opened up to tourists.
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