The Houses of Parliament (officially the Palace of Westminster) is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of parliament of the United Kingdom. Located on the north bank of the River Thames, the structure, commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, is managed by committee appointees of both parliamentary houses. Along with Big Ben, it remains one of the top attractions in London.
The Palace of Westminster derived its name from Westminster Abbey, which is located nearby. It is owned by the reigning monarch and is currently used for ceremonial purposes, although originally it was the royal residence. The first of the royal palaces was built on this site in the 11th century and was the home of the kings of England until a fire destroyed much of the structure in 1512. An even greater fire destroyed most of the Houses of Parliament in 1834, with only the Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St. Stephen's, the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft, and the Jewel Tower still in tact. Architects were invited to submit their designs for rebuilding the palace. Out of 97 submissions, that of Sir Charles Barry was selected as the winning design. Designed in Gothic Revival style, which was inspired by the English Perpendicular Gothic style popular in the 14th–16th centuries, Barry's plans took into consideration the remains of the Old Palace. Assisted by Augustus Pugin, an authority on Gothic architecture and style, construction of Westminster Palace started in 1840 and lasted 30 years. Decoration of the interiors lasted well into the 20th century. Recently, conservation work was undertaken to reverse the effects of London's air pollution.
Standing at the north of the Houses of Parliament is Elizabeth Tower and the great bell, commonly referred to as Big Ben. Although not originally part of Barry's designs, the tower was added later, in 1836. Together, Westminster Palace and Big Ben are the two most iconic landmarks of the London cityscape. Today, Westminster Palace is the center of UK politics, and the term "Westminster" is commonly used when referring to UK Parliament. The palace itself has been listed as a historical building and has been a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. The Houses of Parliament are open year round to visitors for tours or to listen in on debates and committee hearings.