The heart of Brunei is the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan and the heart of the capital city is Istana Nurul Iman. The name means “Palace of the Light of Faith” and it pertains to the majestic residential palace of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. It is the world’s largest palace owned and lived in by a national leader. Located to the south of Bandar Seri Begawan, this amazing structure stands on a hill by the banks of the Brunei River. The palace is also the seat of the government of Brunei.
The intricately beautiful palace with its golden domes and fixtures cost about US$1.4 billion to complete. It was designed by Leandro Locsin, a well-known Filipino architect, and construction was handled by a Filipino firm, Ayala International. From the outside, the palace clearly represents Islamic and Malay motifs. Interior design was done by Khuan Chew, who also did the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. The palace was completed in 1984.
Just how huge and elaborate is Istana Nurul Iman? It contains 257 bathrooms, a banquet hall that can seat 5,000 guests, a garage that can park 110 cars (the sultan owns several Rolls Royce, Bentley and Ferrari cars), five swimming pools, an air-conditioned stable for the sultan’s 200 ponies, a mosque that can accommodate 1,500 people, 44 stairwells, 18 elevators, and a total of 1,788 rooms spread in 2,152,782 square feet of floor space. No doubt this is the largest residential palace and single family residence in the world. It needs 564 chandeliers to light up. Since the palace is also the official seat of the government, inside are the prime minister’s office, Throne of Chamber, Audience Rooms and State Rooms.
While this is clearly the largest single family residence in the world, many contest if it really is the largest palace. The claim is controversial. Yet, the Guinness Book of World Records itself had already declared that Brunei’s main palace is indeed the biggest palace in the world, overshadowing Buckingham Palace, Stockholm Palace, the Royal Palace of Madrid, The Palace of Versailles, The Louvre, Prague Castle, Rome’s Palace of the Parliament and China’s Forbidden City.
The Brunei people are proud of their own. However, not everyone is allowed entry into the “Palace of the Light of Faith” every time. The sultan opens the palace doors to the public (locals and tourists) only once a year during the Muslim festival, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, marking the end of the Ramadan. The sultan and his family members greet the people and receive more than 110,000 visitors in three days. Everyone gets a gift – food for grownups and money for little children. It’s a three-day period that all Bruneians are looking forward to throughout the year.
Istana Nurul Iman serves as a beacon of light, culture, religion, power, honor and wealth. It is not difficult to find since it stands prominently in the capital city. The palace is among other lavish structures in Bandar Seri Begawan, which include golden domes, towers, and the magnificent Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, clearly the second most important building in Brunei.