BRITAIN'S BUCKINGHAM PALACE WILL OPEN TO TOURISTS

Queen Elizabeth II will open part of Buckingham Palace to visitors to help pay for repairing fire damage at Windsor Castle, her staff announced late last week.

The monarch will open parts of the palace for eight weeks in August and September, the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Airlie, told reporters.

"Visitors will be able to see the picture gallery and most of the state apartments," which have some of the best of the royal art collection, said Airlie, who is in charge of the royal household.

The plan was yet another concession to changing times by Queen Elizabeth, who agreed last year to pay income tax. The announcement came amid a public uproar over the government's promise to foot the bill for repairing Windsor Castle, which was heavily damaged by fire on Nov. 20.

Starting next year, visitors to Windsor Castle will be charged admission to the castle grounds. There is currently no charge, unless visitors wish to see the royal apartments.

National Heritage Secretary Peter Brooke said in a written statement to Britain's House of Commons that the new charges are expected to meet 70 percent of the cost of repairing Windsor Castle.

The repair cost is estimated between 30 million to 40 million pounds ($47 million to $63 million) over five years, Airlie said.

The fire swept the northwest side of the castle 20 miles west of London. Founded by William the Conqueror, the castle is the queen's favorite weekend home as well as a major tourist attraction, with 630,000 visitors in 1991.

The Times of London recently reported that the number of visitors has risen as a result of the fire. Since the state apartments reopened Jan. 16, almost 140,000 people have passed through the doors, an increase of 20,000 over the same period last year.

Windsor Castle is the largest inhabited castle in the world, covering about 17 acres (7 hectares) and dominating a hill overlooking the River Thames.

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