The Sultanate of Brunei is an Islamic country that prides itself of its rich oil reserves. However, unlike some cities in the Middle East like Dubai, Brunei is not as ostentatious. Instead, they prefer displaying their riches almost politely and unassuming just like its people. A perfect example of this is the world’s largest residential palace, Istana Nurul Iman.
Measuring about 200,000 square meters, the Istana Nurul Iman is both a residential palace as well as an administrative office for the Sultan of Brunei. Its name is taken from the Arabic phrase for "Palace of the Faith Light." Located along Jalan Tuton, at the southern part capital city Bandar Seri Begawan, the palace is hidden from public view because of its artful landscaping surrounded by the leafy sprawl of hills on the banks of the Brunei River. Satellite images of the palace show that two large buildings are located in the center of the palace, while five smaller adjacent buildings surround it.
Built in 1984 at a cost of around US$1.4 billion, the palace contains 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, five swimming pools, an air-conditioned stable for the Sultan’s 200 polo ponies, a garage that can fit up to 110 cars, an expandable banquet hall that can accommodate up to 4,000 guests, and a mosque that can fit as much as 1,500 people. The Istana Nurul Iman also contains 564 chandeliers, 51,000 light bulbs, 44 stairwells, and 18 elevators. On the outside, the palace is topped by golden domes and vaulted roofs, which were influenced from Islamic and Malay architecture.
The Istana Nurul Iman is the seat of Brunei’s government as well as the location of the prime miniter’s office. It is used for all State functions, which is usually held on the Throne Chamber.
Although the palace is not open to the public, there are some holidays when Istana Nurul Iman accepts visitors. The annual Islamic celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is celebrated in the palace by receiving about 110,000 visitors over a three-day period wherein they receive compliments such as food and even small packets of money for young children. The palace is also open to Muslim visitors during the Ramadan period for 10 days to gather for the Bertedarus prayers.
With its sheer size and wealth, the Istana Nurul Iman is a display of Brunei’s prosperity.