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What Is Windsor Castle? Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Will Marry at Site Known for Ghosts, Art and Palace Intrigue

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Guardsmen stand in formation at Windsor Castle for the arrival of then-President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for their lunch with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in Windsor, England, on April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Updated | Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will forgo central London's royal wedding venues for the more secluded Windsor Castle when they wed, the couple announced on Tuesday.

11_28_WindsorCastle_Christmas An employee poses by the table in the State Dining Room which has been decorated for the Christmas season with silver-gilt pieces from the Grand Service on November 23 in Windsor Castle, England. Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Windsor Castle, about an hour's drive west of London, is where Queen Elizabeth II spends many of her weekends and hosts major state dinners. It’s open to tours, like most royal family-affiliated residences. But unlike Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Westminster Abbey, which are in central London surrounded by businesses and tourist attractions, Windsor sits on grassy hills in the county of Berkshire and has ample open space on its 13 acres.

It was built in the 11th century, and is the oldest and largest occupied palace in Europe. It's almost a millennium old, and has been at the center of some crucial moments in England's history.

When William the Conqueror chose the castle’s location in the 1070s, he meant it to guard against invasions from the west attempting to reach London. That's why it overlooks the River Thames and the Tower of London. During the turbulent English Civil War of the 1640s, when Parliament tried to overthrow King Charles I, the castle was captured and the king was imprisoned there for years until his beheading. 

More recently, during World War II, the royal family used Windsor Castle as a shelter from Luftwaffe bombing campaigns. It survived, while Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street (where the prime minister lives) were bombed constantly. While King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother chose to go into London to comfort their citizens, the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret stayed in the secluded castle. Much of the royal staff was moved there, windows were blacked out and chandeliers were lowered in preparation for the bombings. 

The Crown Jewels––a collection of extravagant crowns and garments the royals have worn for centuries––were reportedly secretly stored in Windsor Castle during World War II in case of a German invasion. The jewels are now kept at the Tower of London. 

In 1992, a fire that started in St. George's Chapel there led to a years-long, $48 million restoration (mostly funded by Buckingham Palace visitors). The fire took 15 hours and one-and-a-half million gallons of water to put out, and it damaged over 100 rooms. Despite the many restorations and remodels, the outer walls of the castle are still positioned the same way they were in the 1070s.

11_28_WindsorCastle_Christmas Employees pose with a 20 foot Nordmann Fir tree from Windsor Great Park in St George's Hall which has been decorated for the Christmas season on November 23 in Windsor Castle, England. Jack Taylor/Getty Images

St. George’s Chapel, where the wedding will take place, is also the burial place of 10 British monarchs––some beheaded, some poisoned, some killed by natural causes––including the scandalous King Henry VIII, who was married six times and beheaded two of his wives and countless other people. Markle will walk down the aisle among those tombs.  

With all of those beheadings and the almost 1,000 years of wars and scandal, the castle is, of course, rumored to be haunted. Anne Boleyn, one of the beheaded wives of King Henry, is among the alleged ghosts. King George III, who held the crown during the American Revolution, and was said to have gone mad during the end of his reign, is another. 

The chapel where Prince Harry and Markle will marry is on the grounds of the castle and still hosts daily worship services, open to the public when tours are running. In 1999, Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones in that chapel. The last royal wedding to take place on the grounds of Windsor Castle was the civil ceremony of Prince Charles and Camilla Bowles in 2005, though not in the chapel, and Queen Elizabeth II did not attend the ceremony.

Over some nine centuries, England’s most esteemed artists, decorators, wood-carvers, sculptors and designers have worked to update the palace with the most luxurious (and expensive) fashions. Its exterior looks more medieval and gothic than other royal palaces, and its interiors follow other palaces' typical Victorian and Georgian decor. Paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo hang in its hallways.

One of the most famous attractions in the castle is the former dollhouse of Queen Mary, who ruled from 1910 to 1936. The largest and perhaps the most famous dollhouse in the world, it took three years to build and is the culmination of dozens of famous designers and craftsmen of its time. One of the country’s most famous architects at the time built it for Queen Mary as a gift. The dollhouse has running water (even flushing toilets) and electricity, as well as a fully stocked wine cellar.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately refered to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother as Queen Elizabeth I.