Brighton's Royal Pavilion, a 19th-century folly complete with domes and minarets, can once more lay claim to be one of Europe's most exotic palaces.
After 10 years of meticulous restoration costing $15 million, the exterior of George IV's seaside fantasy now dazzles. Visitors gasp at the opulence of the interiors of the building, which started as a humble farmhouse.
The music room, lighted by the dancing flames of candles, looks like Marco Polo's description of Kublai Khan's palace at Xanadu. But its glories have twice been darkened.
``In 1975, a young man had a row with his girlfriend and decided to take it out on the pavilion. He hurled a brick through the window and then threw in a petrol (gas) canister. It took 12 years to repair the smoke damage,'' says Heather Jackson, a promoter for the resort.
``Then, just as we were celebrating the new Irish Donegal carpet being put down, disaster struck again.... In the 1987 hurricane that struck Britain, a one-ton minaret crashed through the roof and smashed into the carpet,'' Ms. Jackson says.
Thanks to the restoration team, visitors can once more imagine the 70-strong band playing selections from Handel, and George in his striking bass voice leading guests in a rendition of the popular tune ``Life's a Bumper.''
George, Prince of Wales, first came to Brighton in 1783. At the age of 21, he was handsome and amorous, an impresario of the arts who left his mark on the nation with the building of the pavilion, Buckingham Palace, and London's National Gallery.
Attacked by critics for frivolity and opulence at a time of poverty in the Industrial Revolution, he epitomized the self-confident flair of a British Empire convinced the sun would never set on it.
In 1787, architect Henry Holland created a neoclassical villa from the farmhouse. Then, from 1815 to 1822, it was transformed into an Indian-style extravaganza by John Nash.
The music and banqueting rooms vie with each other for the prize of the most lavishly decorated. The banqueting room boasts a glorious high-domed ceiling in the shape of a plantain tree, and a giant silvered dragon holds up the chandelier. Beneath is a table laid for 24.