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Iolani Palace, From Royal Residence To Royal Prison

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A palace built to impress and inspire.

After spending an afternoon walking the halls of the Honolulu Museum of Art I’m inspired to dig deeper into the rich history of Hawaii. I only got a taste of it at the museum and I want more. The obvious place to go of course is the last Royal Residence of the Hawaiian monarchy to be built which is right in the centre of Honolulu on Oahu. It’s called Iolani Palace and it was built to impress and inspire the people of Hawaii and to firmly establish the Kingdom of Hawaii as a modern nation in the eyes of the world. The cornerstone was laid in 1879 and was completed in 1882 just in time for King Kalakaua to hold a luncheon for members of the Hawaiian legislative assembly. I’m 132 years too late for lunch but just in time to tour it for 30 Days In Hawaii.

Iolani Palace

Dining Out For Life

My tour starts off on the back veranda where the guides get you all set up with your own personal audio tour guide. Little booties to cover your shoes and I’m all set for the tour. A total of 12 stops in all the audio guide moves you from room to room at your own pace and when you are ready it shares with you some of the history and important facts about the palace and it’s inhabitants, the Hawaiian royal family. The first stop of the tour is the Grand Hall.

Marc with his audio tour guide ready to tour Iolani Palace

the Grand Hall of Iolani Palace

The Grand Hall was where the guests of the King and Queen were admitted into the palace. A first for Royal palaces, King Kalakua had electric lights installed throughout the palace after he met Thomas Edison. I’m sure that when guests entered the Grand Hall they would have been awed and amazed by the glowing lights from the chandeliers.

Bronze statue and main staircase leading up to the living quarters of Iolani Palace

Grand Hall rear view

To the left of the Grand Hall is what is known as the Blue Room, the less formal room used for small gatherings and intimate audiences. Fine art adorns the room including a portrait of King Louis Philippe of France that was presented to King Kamehameha III by the French government in 1848. A fine example of one of the many electric crystal chandeliers hangs in this room.

The Blue Room of Iolani Palace

blue chairs line the walls of the Blue room of Iolani Palace

Crystal Chandelier in the Blue Room

Adjacent to the Blue Room is the formal Dining Room where state dinners and family meals would be served. The King sat in the center of the table so that he could easily converse with all his guests who dined on the finest of China, Silverware and Crystal from around the world. To the right of the dining table are two rooms that were the wonder of their day. A Water Closet (bathroom) with a toilet and a running sink is one room and the other is a prep kitchen with another sink with running water. Remember this is 1882 and these were rare to have in any home.

Formal Dining Room of Iolani Palace

adjoining kitchen and watercloset to the Dining Room

Water Closet toilet

a sink in the water closet of the Dining Room

Kitchen Sink beside the dining room

Across from the Dining Room and the Blue Room is the Throne Room. It takes up the entire right side of the first floor of the palace and it is a wonder to behold. The walls are ordered with rich fabrics and coats of arms from brother monarchs from around the world that the King has met on his grand tour. King Kalakaua was the first monarch to visit the united States and also the first to travel the world. King Kalakaua was the Justin Bieber of his time.

Throne Room at Iolani Palace

The Crowns of the King and Queen of Hawaii

A coat of arms from one of eth many royals he visited on his world tour

the thrones at Iolani Palace

Now I move up to the second floor which was the private living space for the royal family. Separate rooms for the King and Queen but each one was richly decorated and had a private bathroom attached to it. The height of opulence and technological wonder of the day. It was good to be King. He even had a phone installed so he could call the Royal Chamberlain in his office in the basement.

Queens Bedroom at Iolani Palace

The Kings Bed

Private shower and bath for the King and Queen

The Kings office

The King had a phone in his office to call his Chamberlain who worked in eth offices in the basement

Kings music room

The saddest room of the house and the most historically interesting is the Queen’s bedroom. When Princess Liliuokalani became Queen after her brother the King died it was a time of turmoil for the people of Hawaii. Rich merchants wrestled power away from the royal family and after an unsuccessful attempt to restore full authority to the Queen, she was tried for treason by the merchants and imprisoned for 8 months in her own palace bedroom. The room was stripped of all adornment and with only one attendant she lived for 8 months in her bedroom. To pass her time she composed many poems and songs which are still sung today and she also made a quilt out of pieces of fabric from her gowns. It is hard to capture the sombreness of this room and the beauty of the quilt so I suggest you come and experience it for yourself.

the Queens bed

the Queen's Quilt

In a short tour of about an hour and a half I learned more about Hawaii and its history than I had ever known. When you visit Honolulu you must put Iolani on your agenda. If you still have time make your way down into the basement where you can take a sneak peak at some of the royal jewels that are on display.

Royal Order of The Knights of Kamehameha garter and cross

Thank you to my friends at the Hawaii Visitor’s Bureau for helping make this adventure possible. If you want to have your own Hawaiian adventure there is no better place to start than Go Hawaii, after you read this blog series though first.

Princess Liliuokalani & Queen Kapiolani

Under The Covers by Dawn Chubai

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About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.

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