The Homes of World Leaders
The final months of 2016 witnessed a tumultuous countdown to the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. It has been impossible to avert the media frenzy that inundates us with images of the White House—a building few would fail to recognize as the residence and workplace of every United States President since 1800.
But what of other presidential abodes? Do any boast near the same notoriety? Where do the momentous decisions that shape history take place? Where do our world leaders return to at night and wake up each morning? And what do the buildings they live in tell us about the nations they lead?
They may be lavish palaces, glitzy cathedrals or unassuming houses. They may be imposing, over-bearing, beautiful works of art, or modest, simple and functional. These emblematic buildings often epitomize a country's unique culture, character and charm but few are familiar outside their own country. Occasionally press releases and significant events grant brief moments in the limelight. Be it Uruguay's former President José Mujica's decision to forgo presidential privileges in favor of his wife's farmhouse and his beaten up '87 VW Beetle, or the unveiling of Turkey's extravagant new one thousand roomed presidential complex. Rarely, however, do the homes of other world leaders make international news and only a handful come anywhere near the prominence of the White House.
10 Downing Street, London, Great Britain
10 Downing Street, home to British Prime Minister Theresa May, perhaps vies with the White House in worldwide recognition. It has been home to prime ministers of Britain since 1735. In comparison to the overt palaces of other world leaders, the true size of 10 Downing Street is somewhat opaque: The external simplicity belies an internal labyrinth. This seemingly modest townhouse has long been merged with the surrounding buildings, now boasting a myriad of doors, hallways and over 100 rooms. The home is never open to the public but can be glimpsed through the gates from Whitehall.
Élysée Palace, Paris, France
Over the English Channel and around the corner from the Arc De Triomphe lies the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the French President François Hollande. The name of both the Élysée Palace and the nearby Avenue des Champs-Élysée derive from the word Elysium—a paradisaical afterlife in Greek myth reserved for heroes favored by the Gods. The reference is not far afield: The palace is a spectacle and can be visited on European Heritage Days.
The Blue House, Seoul, South Korea
Cheong Wa Dae, which translates as "Pavilion of blue tiles," is home to the President of the Republic of Korea Park Geun-Hye. It was built in traditional Korean architectural style on the site of a royal villa in Seoul dating back to the 10th century Koryo dynasty. It is a particularly young presidential abode, having only been completed in 1991. The blue tiles of the pavilion are the buildings most distinguishable feature and combined with the Bugaksan Mountain behind give this presidential home a unique, picturesque beauty. The presidential gardens that surround the blue house are home to the national Mugunghwa flower, a 300-year-old pine tree and a succession of trees planted by each president to take power.
The Quirinal Palace, Rome, Italy
On the highest of Rome's seven hills can be found the home of Italy's President Sergio Mattarella, the Quirinal Palace. The palace is located on a spot attributed to several Ancient Roman deities including Quirinus, after whom the hill and palace are named. It was originally built in 1583 as a holiday home for Pope Gregory XIII who sought somewhere to escape the humidity and stench of the Tiber River. It has been home to 30 popes and four Italian kings, and since 1947 has been used as the official residence of the last 12 Italian presidents.
Palácio da Alvorada, Brasília, Brazil
Looking out over Brasília's Paranoá Lake is the Palace of the Dawn, the official residence of Brazilian President Michel Temer. Palácio da Alvorada was completed in 1958 and first housed Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitscheck whose quote, “Brasília is a new dawn in the History of Brazil,” became synonymous with the creation of the presidential palace and gave it its name. It has been home to Brazilian presidents ever since. Brazils Palácio da Alvorada is one of the most modernist and functional presidential residences and boasts a chapel, helipad, and movie theater.
Kantei, Tokyo, Japan
Before 1929, prime ministers of Japan would reside in a two-story wooden house in central Tokyo. However, that year saw the construction of the Kantei, a building which lasted for 73 years up until it was demolished in 2002 and replaced with a new Kantei twice the size, with five floors above ground and one below. Located in the Chiyoda ward of central Tokyo, it now serves as both home and headquarters to one of Japan's longest-serving prime ministers, Shinzō Abe. Built of both stone and bamboo, the Kantei's exterior is more modern, and far less glamorous than the homes of other world leaders. The design is intended to evoke “the simple beauty of Japanese aesthetic.”
Bellevue Palace, Berlin, Germany
Situated on the banks of the Spree River is the austere and immaculate Bellevue Palace. This neoclassical building, designed by architect Michael Philipp Boumann, is named using the French word for “beautiful view.” Originally constructed in 1786 as a summer residence for King Frederick II of Prussia and his younger brother Prince Augustus Ferdinand, the Bellevue Palace has since served a variety of purposes. Before becoming the official residence of German Presidents in 1994, it was used as a school under Kaiser Wilhelm II and a museum and guest house under Nazi rule. Today it is the home of Germany's President Angela Merkel.
Istana Negara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Istana Negara, Malay for “National Palace,” was finished in 2011 after four years or work. A month later, it became the official home of the elected monarch and head of state of Malaysia, Muhammad V of Kelantan. The complex has 22 domes, and is a combination of Islamic and Malay architecture. As with the original national palace, the new Istana Negara is closed to the public, though it is possible to peer through its entrance gates and marvel at its extraordinary golden domes.
Casa de Nariño, Bogotá, Colombia
The home of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos can be found on the south side of Plaza de Bolívar, in Bogotá. This neoclassical jewel is commonly referred to as Casa de Nariño in homage to the Colombian revolutionary and father of independence Antonio Nariño, whose home it is built on.
Zhongnanhai, Beijing, China
The Zhongnanhai is situated to the west of the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing, and few know what lies behind its high walls. The name means “central and southern seas,” referring to two lakes that are enclosed within. Though the Zhongnanhai is predominantly lakes and gardens, it is today also the official residence of the President of the People's Republic of China. It has been home to various notable individuals since its construction in the Jin Dynasty some 1000 years ago but little is known of what lies within the compound despite it being situated in central Beijing. The Zhongnanhai has housed China's highest leaders since Mao Ze Dong took up residence following the triumph of the Communist Revolution in 1949.
The Lodge, Canberra, Australia
Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister of Australia, can be found at 5 Adelaide Avenue in Australia's capital, Canberra. Somewhat younger and less extravagant than the glamorous palaces of other world leaders, the Lodge is a 40-room Georgian revival that began housing the country's prime ministers after its construction in 1927. Unlike many presidential residences, the Lodge was constructed with the very purpose of becoming home to the Prime Minister of Australia. Prime Minister Stanley Bruce was the first occupant, and following prime ministers who lived at the Lodge added their own personal touches to the property.
The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
Sitting on Borovitsky Hill high above the Moskva River stands the Kremlin, home to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The imposing fortified complex is in the heart of Moscow, and even those who have never visited Moscow may recognize the red square and the colorful domes of St. Basil's Cathedral. In 1326, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church moved to Moscow and, under a century later, fortified walls, towers and palaces had been constructed to shape roughly what we today know as the Kremlin. Henceforth, the name Kremlin was born, translating as “fortress within a city.” In 1917 following the Russian Revolution, the Kremlin again became the seat of the Russian government and home to the Presidents of the Soviet Union. Much of the Kremlin is open to the public and boasts several distinguished museums and cathedrals.
Palacio de La Moncloa, Madrid, Spain
Palacio de la Moncloa, the home of Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, is located within the University City ward of Madrid, in the Moncloa district. Though the site dates back to the 17th century, the original palace was destroyed in the 1930s during the Siege of Madrid in the Spanish Civil War. Palacio de la Moncloa was, however, resurrected and has been the home of Spanish Prime Ministers ever since 1977 when Adolfo Suárez became the first democratically elected prime minister following the death of Francisco Franco.
La Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, Argentina
On the eastern side of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, is La Casa Rosada, home to the president of Argentina. Its name translates as “the Pink House” due to the color of its exterior. There are various explanations as to how the building got its name and color. A popular belief is that President Sarmiento attempted to make peace between Federalists and Unitarians in the 1870s by painting the building a fusion of red and white, the colors that represented either side. However, in the 19th century, white paint was often mixed with cow blood and this is more likely the reason behind the bright pink color of La Casa Rosada.
The Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, India
The Rashtrapati Bhavan is the official residence of the President of India Pranab Mukherjee. Standing on a 330-acre estate, it is the largest presidential residence in the world. Designed by the British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, it was constructed from red and cream sandstone and represents a fusion of Indian and Western architecture. The building itself covers over five acres of land and contains 340 rooms. Outside, 227 columns decorate its exterior and 37 fountains can be counted in gardens, terraces and rooftops. The Mughal gardens, inspired by those of the Taj Mahal, have been described as the soul of the presidential palace. They are one of the building's most remarkable features and are open to the public during the Udyanotsav festival each year.
24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Canada
Since 1951, a charming structure overlooking the Ottawa River has been the official residence of the prime minister of Canada. Ivy-covered 24 Sussex Drive was first commissioned in 1868 as a wedding present for the fiancé of former Member of Parliament Joseph Merrill Currier. Due to the current state of 24 Sussex Drive and the need for extensive renovations, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not live in the residence he once called home when his father Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister. He and his family live in the same verdant vicinity but instead in the nearby Rideau Cottage.