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The Biltmore Estate, Part 1

California has the Hearst Castle and North Carolina has the Biltmore Estate. What do they have in common? They are both the result of a family that effectively had an infinite amount of money and could build opulent palaces for their own enjoyment. Also, in both cases the estates were country retreats to which the owners invited the rich and famous to join them to share the luxury that only huge piles of money can provide.

The Biltmore Estate was built by George Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt who created the family's vast fortune based on shipping and railroad empires. Eventually, the family fell on hard times (relatively speaking) and the estate was preserved as a museum and can be visited by the general public. It is located in Asheville, North Carolina and became our mid-point destination on our two-day return from Ocean City, MD to Blairsville, GA.

The home is so big that I had to walk what seemed like a quarter mile (I'm sure it was less than that) in order to capture this image of the entire house.

Then I turned around to view and photograph what the Vanderbilts and their guests would see from the front entrance. It actually made me think of a landing strip for small aircraft.

Construction began in 1889 and required six years and an army of workers and craftsmen to complete the 250-room French Renaissance ch√Ęteau. According to their website, it is "the largest undertaking in residential architecture".

The home was completed in 1895 and George Vanderbilt celebrated with lavish Christmas decorations — inviting friends and family to share in the festivities.

The finished home contains over four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Tours are available to view the interior but photography is not allowed. Of course, I saw tons of people taking pictures with their cell phones (including flash) and it seemed that none of the worker bees said anything about it. But I did refrain even though I would not need a flash and could take my photos quickly without getting in anyone's way.

But the exterior facade offered many interesting photo opportunities such as this gargoyle which one might expect to find adorning an old European structure.

Here a knight looks out to protect the lord of the manor. I was impressed by the detail that is exhibited in the carving — for instance, notice the mail of his leggings.

Even the lintels show rich carvings to entertain the guests and lovers of interesting architecture.

One of the details that I really liked are the peaks of the roof — which appear to be fashioned from copper and provide such a wonderful and elegant topping to a building component that is normally just functional.

This lion seemed to be watching over the estate to make sure none of the visitors got out of line. His ribs were showing which I took to mean he was quite hungry — time to move on.

Immediately to one side of the home is a stature garden. This dancing pair is right at the base of the stairs.

The statue garden itself looks like it would provide a wonderful area to stroll around — perhaps after dinner with a drink and, for the men, a cigar. I can close my eyes and see them enjoying themselves — can you?

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com