On Saturday 6th May 2023, hundreds of thousands of travellers from around the globe will flock to London to watch King Charles III crowned at Westminster Abbey. It will be the fortieth known coronation held at Westminster Abbey.
The first was that of William the Conqueror, in 1066, which didn’t go off without a hitch. William himself was apparently rather uneasy, and tensions between the new Norman nobility and the recently conquered English soon erupted into violence. Charles’ coronation is likely to be less dramatic, but rather more spectacular.
Whether you can’t get enough of royal celebrations, or you want to hide under your duvet until it’s all over, there's travel inspiration to be found in coronation spots around the world. Read on to discover five destinations that have hosted the most important, impressive or just downright unusual coronation ceremonies throughout history.
1037 BC: Gilgal, West Bank
Okay, this one will be a little difficult to travel to, because no one’s exactly sure where it is. According to the Bible, Gilgal was the site of the coronation of Saul, the first king of Biblical Israel.
Gilgal is mentioned nearly 40 times in the Bible and appears on the famous mosaic map of Madaba in Jordan. However, its exact location is now lost, though several sites have been suggested.
Anyone hoping to visit a Saul-related location would do better to seek out Israel’s Mount Gilboa. Here the unfortunate king was defeated in battle against the Philistines and met his end.
465 BC: Pasargadae, Iran
We don’t know much about the rituals involved in Saul’s coronation, but we have rather more detail for another coronation held in antiquity. Thanks to the writings of the Greek historian Plutarch, we know how King Artaxerxes I of Persia underwent his coronation.
In a temple in Pasargadae, he donned the robes of his great-grandfather, Cyrus the Great, and then ate figs, turpentine and sour milk. Delicious.
Pasargadae, though once the capital of the Persian Empire, is now a ruin, and very little of the former city remains to be seen. It’s still worth a visit, though. Here you’ll find the magnificent tomb of Cyrus the Great. One of Iran’s key archaeological treasures, it's been added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
It’s also only an hour’s drive from the remarkable ruins of Persepolis, another former Persian capital and an undoubted highlight of any visit to Iran.
800 AD: St Peter’s, Vatican
One of the most significant events of the early Middle Ages took place in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on Christmas Day in the year 800. Pope Leo III anointed the King of the Franks, Charlemagne, and proclaimed him the Holy Roman Emperor.
While the story goes that Charlemagne wasn’t expecting such an honour, it’s generally thought he was well aware of the Pope’s intentions and only too pleased to receive this title.
Whatever the truth of it, Charlemagne’s coronation heralded the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire. This powerful political entity would dominate central European affairs for nearly a thousand years.
The site of this coronation was St Peter’s Basilica, though the original basilica was demolished in 1505 to make way for the magnificent building that now stands in the Vatican.
Those hoping to get closer to Charlemagne could instead consider a trip to Aachen, in Germany, where the Emperor made his capital. The gorgeous cathedral – though much extended and modified – was begun under Charlemagne’s patronage in around 798. It still houses his tomb.
1804: Notre-Dame, Paris
Let’s jump forward 1000 years, from the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire right to its end, which came during the Napoleonic Wars. In the early days of these wars, in 1804, the French leader Napoleon had himself proclaimed Emperor and arranged a hugely impressive coronation in Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris.
Pope Pius VII officiated at the ceremony, which involved majestic outfits, enormous orchestras and choirs, solemn oaths, and a crown. Although newly manufactured, it was described as the Crown of Charlemagne.
Notre-Dame Cathedral, of course, still stands, and is one of Paris’ best-known tourist attractions, despite the serious damage it suffered in the fire of 2019. It is expected to reopen to visitors in late 2024.
In the meantime, if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of Napoleon’s coronation, you could swing by the Louvre. Here the Crown of Charlemagne – now sensibly known as the Crown of Napoleon – is on display.
1850: Beaver Island, Michigan
By and large, in the nineteenth century it was more common for kingdoms to be dissolved than for new ones to be established. Over in the United States, however, James Strang managed to buck the trend.
The leader of a group which split off from Brigham Young’s branch of Mormonism, Strang led his followers to Beaver Island on Lake Michigan. Here, in 1850, he declared himself king of the church and enjoyed a coronation ceremony that involved him being presented with a crown and sceptre.
The kingdom was short-lived and did not survive Strang’s murder in 1856. While visitors today will find little trace of the Strangite community, Beaver Island's Mormon Print Shop – which dates back to the 1850s – maintains a small museum dedicated to the story.
Today, Beaver Island’s inhabitants are mainly of Irish descent. In recognition of this ancestry, the island bills itself as America’s Emerald Isle. With plenty of hiking trails and beaches, it’s a great destination for nature lovers. It's also perfect for stargazers — with very little light pollution, it offers fantastic dark skies.
2019: Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
One of the world’s most recent coronations took place in 2019, when the current king of Thailand, Vajiralongkorn, ascended the throne. The ceremony took place at the Grand Palace and the nearby Sanam Luang public square in Bangkok. Approximately 150,000 people witnessed proceedings over the course of the three day event.
Incorporating both religious and political theatre, the ceremony involved the king being anointed with sacred water while a 40-gun salute was fired. It ended with the king’s attendance at Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist temple.
Although access was restricted during the coronation, the Grand Palace is one of Bangkok’s top tourist attractions, and is the site of many beautiful temples and pavilions. Wat Phra Kaew – also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha – is among the most spectacular.
While here, be sure to visit the Chakri Maha Prasat ensemble of buildings. These were constructed in the late 19th century with an intriguing combination of Thai and Western architectural styles. Just down the road from the Palace is another of Bangkok’s undisputed highlights, Wat Pho. This gorgeous temple complex houses the city’s largest reclining Buddha.
While London is by no means the only destination with a history of hosting coronations, it is certainly where the eyes of the world will turn in May 2023. Will you be joining the crowds of flag-wavers in the capital? Or, perhaps you’ve been inspired to make tracks to another coronation-themed destination, for a right royal adventure.