Word Origin: Palace

It once was a house on an ashen hill


The one building that ignites our desires is the palace. Perhaps, it is the first structural term we learn—and we can thank our bed-time stories for that—way before we hear about the college, the factory or the skyscraper. No other edifice can match the grandeur associated with a palace. It stands for boundless wealth and power, for it’s the house where the royals reside.


Palace did not always mean the house of kings. The term originates from the name for one of the seven hills on which Rome stands, the Palatine Hill. Most houses of the early imperial Roman elite were built on this hill. Even after the city expanded over the other hills, Palatine remained the most desired place of residence. The first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar, chose to live on this hill. His residence was a modest place, just like many others in the neighbourhood. The only things that distinguished his house were the two laurel trees flanking the main door.



In 64 AD, an urban fire, now known as The Great Fire of Rome, burned down all the houses on the hills. With residences of all aristocrats turning to ashes, the then emperor Nero enlarged his house and gardens to cover the entire hilltop. Now that his ‘Golden House’ dominated the hill, Palatine, which was earlier the name of the neighbourhood, came to denote the house.


After some centuries, the term palace started being used for government. This usage can be first seen in the writings of historian Paul the Deacon in 790 AD. If we were to use this meaning in referring to the Robert Vadra case, we would say, “The UPA palace is shielding the Gandhi son-in-law.”


In the 9th century, palace was also used for the seats of governments, where affairs of the state were conducted. By that reckoning, today’s Parliament House would have been called a palace. Later, the residences of the electors of the Roman empire too were called palaces. The electors were next only to the Roman emperor, because it was they who would elect him from among the many kings. After Rome fell into decline, and monarchies rose all over Europe, the word was used to denote the residence of the monarch.


Much later, when Europe started colonising the rest of the world, palace began to be used for houses of kings almost everywhere. The use of English words in regional languages has led to the term being commonly used in India.


Many palaces have now been converted to hotels and museums, but still continue to retain the word palace in their names because it reinforces their prestige and heritage status, on which there’s a premium. Others, even when they are newly built or smaller in scale, add it to their names in the hope that it confers some of that prestige to their own more modest establishments.


Of course, there are also the small budget hotels, lodges and even marriage halls that have no qualms in using the word palace in their names. Perhaps there’s nothing that better illustrates the not-so-secret longing of the commoner for the romance and the splendour of the bygone days of royalty.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: