Commissioned by Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, and completed in 1984 at a cost of around US$ 1.4 billion, the gorgeous Istana Nurul Iman, crowned with a golden dome, is located on a leafy riverside sprawl, on the pristine bank of the River Brunei, a few km southwest of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei. The name Istana Nurul Amin originates from the Malay Istana, and Arabic Nur-ol Imaan, which means the Palace of the Light of Faith.
However, as the official residence of the Sultan, and the seat of the Brunei government, it displays more opulence than spirituality. Containing a huge floor space of 2,152,782 sq feet (200,000 sq m), the palace is occupied by only one family and earned the title of the world’s largest private residence.
Although the palace is the home of the sultan, he also takes his official audience in it, and entertains the foreign dignitaries at the palace. As the palace houses the prime minister’s office, it also serves as the seat of the government. Apart from that, it is also used as the venue of all the state functions of the government of Brunei.
During Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the gates of the palace remain open to the public for three days, and every year an estimated 110,000 people visit the palace to gawk at the breathtaking and eye-gaping opulence of the sultan and receive a small packet containing money as a gift.
Istana Nurul Iman, the residence of the Sultan of Brunei, exhibits a blend of European and traditional Malay architecture. While the palace was constructed by Ayala Corporation, Leonardo V. Locsin of the Philippines was the architect responsible for the exterior of the palace, who tried to unify the Islamic and Malay traditions in the design of the building.
Khuan Chew of the UK, the designer of the interior of the palace, was also attached to the construction of the famous Burj Al Arab in Dubai. The poetic crystal teardrops in the royal reception room, the graceful wooden ceiling above the covered walkways, and the wonderful glass ceiling features of the grand banquet hall for 5,000 guests, all are creations of Khuan Chew.
The best quality of Italian marble, granite from Shanghai, English glass, and the best silk from China were used for the construction of the massive building of Istana Nurul Iman. Thirty-eighty kinds of marble were used for the creation of its aesthetic interior. Even, its 44 staircases are all made of marble, although the palace is equipped with 18 elevators. The interior of the palace is mainly decorated with gold and marble, the doorknobs are made of solid gold, which dazzles when illuminated with 564 chandeliers, and 51,000 light bulbs.
The enormous Istana Nurul Iman contains 1788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, 5 swimming pools, and a mosque that can accommodate around 1500 people. In addition to the grand banquet hall, the audience room, and the staterooms, there is a throne room used for various formal occasions like the proclamation of the crown prince and the annual birthday investiture. As an essential part of the Sultan’s residence, the palace is equipped with 110 royal garages to house his band of 7000 cars, which include, among others, 365 Ferraris, 600 Rolls Royces, 440 Mercedes Benzes, 265 Audis, 275 Lamborghinis, 350 Bentleys, 225 Jaguars, and the others. The palace also has an air-conditioned stable for the 200 polo ponies. Added to all the above, it even has a helipad for the personal use of the Sultan.