Yanukovych who? These are history's most obscenely luxurious palaces


ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 19: Visitors crowd in front of the State Hermitage museum on June 19, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The State Hermitage, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, has approximately three million objects in its collections, including the most paintings of any museum. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)


Sean Gallup

Pet ostriches? A private golf course?

The masses gasped at the absurd decadence on display at the 320-acre estate of Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych hours after he fled the capital last weekend.

But ol' Yanu's got nothing on autocrats of the past. Not even with those curative beehives.

Here's a look at some of the most obscenely luxurious palaces in history:



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Versailles, which began as a hunting lodge, became Louis XIV's homage to opulence and a symbol of the royal absolutism that sparked the French Revolution.

The palace contained no less than 350 living units, from multi-room apartments to rooms the size of a small alcove. The complex also included a vast garden, a walled-in royal hunting grounds and even an estate used exclusively by Marie Antoinette.

Its pressurized water fountains were a marvel at the time, as was the opera house with a mechanical device that elevated the orchestra pit to stage level.

And, of course, there's rooms like the Hall of Mirrors — designed for maximum viewing of one's royal profile.

All of this as most French could barely afford to eat.


Domus Aurea

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It means "Golden House" in English, and what a home it was.

Built for Emperor Nero after the great fire in 64 AD, Domus Aurea covered no less than 100 acres of ancient Rome and included a vast private pool and even mock "farms" to give the impression of pastoral life.

Within the house itself were rooms filled with exquisite frescoes that inspired Raphael's four rooms at the Vatican and the 18th-century Neoclassicism movement.

The stuccoed ceilings were studded with jewels and finished in ivory. The dazzling white marble walls were angled to take the best advantage of the ambient light.

The dining room even had a rotating ceiling, allowing the movement of the stars to be seen from the comfort of the great indoors.

The most luxurious aspect of the "house" was perhaps that it wasn't really meant for any other purpose than pleasure. There were no bedrooms or bathrooms in the space.


Schonbrunn Palace

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Once the summer home of the Habsburg emperors, Austria's Schonbrunn Palace contains an astounding 1,441 rooms.

Its gardens include a maze over a mile in length, four enormous greenhouses and a massive steel and marble building known as the Gloriette that sits atop a 200-foot hill.

It also contains a set of fake Roman "ruins" as was customary in the mid-18th century.

Following the sudden death of Emperor Franz Stephan in 1765, his widowed empress had several rooms appointed as memorial rooms and spared no expense outfitting them with precious Chinese lacquer panels and costly wooden panelling.

No telling how much that cost the minions of the Holy Roman Empire.


Winter Palace

(Sean Gallup AFP/Getty Images)

The Winter Palace, now known as the State Hermitage Museum, housed Russia's ruling families for centuries in St. Petersburg.

When rebels stormed the palace in 1917, it secured its place in history as a symbolic victory for the Russian Revolution.

The palace boasted more than 1,000 lavishly decorated halls and rooms — one of which could hold 10,000 people — as well as its own private cathedral and a huge wine cellar.

In fact, the wine cellar was so large it was rumored to fuel a month-long drinking binge among palace looters. Historians called it the "greatest hangover in history."


Forbidden City

(Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images)

The only non-European palace to crack the list, China's Forbidden City was the imperial palace of its emperors for 500 years.

At almost twice the size of the Vatican, it contained a mind-boggling 9,999 rooms in 980 buildings on 7.8 million square feet in the heart of Beijing.

There's a reason for the "forbidden" in it's name. No one could enter or leave the complex without the emperor's permission while it was his home. It now goes by the much more benign name Palace Museum.

Construction lasted 14 years and required more than a million workers. No expense was spared when it came to materials, including wood from a now-threatened species of tree, large blocks of marble and specially-baked "golden bricks" from Suzhou.

At the height of its decadence, the imperial palace housed 10,000 concubines and 70,000 eunuchs to cater to the rulers' every whim.


Nonsuch Palace

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Begun in 1538, the greatest of Henry VIII's building ventures took nine years to construct and cost more than $40,000 — a phenomenal amount for the time.

It bore the name Nonsuch because there was no other like it.

Ornate and richly-decorated to compete with French rival Francois I, the southern face of the palace with its Renaissance decoration was meant for display only. Eight-sided towers decorated each end of the south side.

It was the grandest home in Britain, but few of Henry's successors were particularly attached to it.

Charles II gave it as a gift to his mistress, who destroyed it just 150 years after it was built to pay off gambling debts.

Nothing remains of the ostentatious palace today, except for fragments embedded within other buildings.