Fascinating Balconies!

Balconies in the Sun

As the well-travelled have probably discovered, some of the finest balcony examples can be found throughout Europe's fascinating cities and beyond. A quick glance above your head can reveal the most elegant and intricate of balcony designs, a smart contemporary balustrade or a high-rise garden brimming with plant life; each adding character to the façade, whatever its age.

The hot and sunny Mediterranean climate is perfectly suited to balconies from where residents can privately enjoy their own outdoor space, or simply watch the world go by on bustling streets below. Check out Spanish cities where it seems virtually every building - residential and commercial - boasts some interesting examples of balcony architecture.

The Andalusian city of Granada is home to the splendid Alhambra Palace and boasts myriad styles of wrought-iron and stone balconies. Strolling along its lively thoroughfares, you can't fail to notice the variety of designs jutting above shop fronts, restaurants and hotels.

Of course, no visit to the city is complete without a half-day tour of the stunning, hill-top Alhambra Palace which dates as far back as the 9th century. Balconies built over the centuries overlooking water-cooled gardens, patios and courtyards are an invitation to take life more slowly at this Moorish attraction, the most visited monument in Spain. The Patio of the Wrought Iron Grille is so known because of the wrought iron grille that has been on the southern wall since 1655, as if it were a balcony. Within the patio is a stone fountain and hundred-year-old cypresses. Next to the Ladies Tower overlooking the Gardens of Partal is a simple balcony on one of the three Arab houses that were added later. Even the Queen's Dressing Room, built in 1537, has a spacious lofty balcony in the tower enjoying spectacular views over the city's more historic neighbourhoods.

Travel to Kalkan on the Turkish coast and you will find narrow streets lined with old whitewashed villas and historic buildings; their original carved Ottoman Greek timber balconies are swathed in brightly-coloured bougainvillea.

Or head for the Mediterranean holiday islands of Malta and Gozo where the balcony is unequivocally an important feature of their streetscape. The first open balconies built entirely from stone are thought to have originated in medieval times. The traditional and well-recognised closed timber version came later. In 1679, the corner balcony of the Grand Master's Palace in Valletta is believed to have been the first to become enclosed with a wood and glass structure. This fashion spread to the villages during the 18th century.

In 2007, the ubiquitous Maltese and Gozitan balconies were elevated in status when they featured on a set of five stamps, issued by the Philatelic Bureau of Maltapost, illustrating the development of the islands' iconic building feature.

The enduring appeal of balconies continues to delight us and their potential use is limited only by our imagination. Nowadays, they serve a multitude of purposes in bringing the outdoors closer; as a garden, a place to eat, drink or relax, a platform from which to observe life in the street below or just to take in views of the landscape.

Famous uses of balconies

From Royalty to Popes, pop stars and presidents, you could say balconies have taken 'centre stage' in worldwide events. Now you can even get married on one.

Italian soccer player Luca Ceccarelli and his 24-year-old bride Irene Lanforti were the first couple to marry on the world's most romantic of balconies in Verona. The pair 'tied the knot' in June 2009 in the 13th-century Casa di Giulietta, or House of Juliet - reputed to be the site where Shakespeare's famous lovers Romeo and Juliet wooed one another some centuries ago.

The House of Juliet is one of the top tourist spots in the Italian city that attracts around 1.2 million visitors a year. The building belonged to the Cappello family, traditionally identified with the Capulets, leading to the belief that the model for Shakespeare's fictional character once lived there.

But the privilege of getting hitched there doesn't come cheap - European residents will be charged 700 euros to bring the play's well-known location to life with their own wedding.

'Don't Cry for Me' at the Casa Rosada

For balcony enthusiasts and fans of Evita, one of the world's most famous balconies juts out of Argentina's Presidential Palace, known as the Casa Rosada (Spanish for Pink House). Pop stars, popes, Argentine Presidents and a number of other historical figures, including Eva Perón, have all stood on its balcony, which faces the square.

Pope John Paul II waved to the crowds from the balcony when he visited Buenos Aires in 1982 and 1987. And eight years later, the balcony had a starring role in the movie Evita when Madonna sang 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' from its stone balustrading.

Standing on Ceremony

Some balconies have strong ceremonial links. In Rome, the Pope periodically delivers his 'urbi et orbi' blessing from the large stone balcony situated at the centre of St Peter's Basilica. The announcement of a new pope is also made from this famous location.

Inside churches, balconies are sometimes provided for the singers, and in banqueting halls and similar for the musicians. In theatres, the balcony was known as a stage-box. Now the name usually refers to the auditorium above the dress circle and below the gallery.

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