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PUBLIC CAN TOUR PALACE - WHEN QUEEN’S AWAY

SHARE PUBLIC CAN TOUR PALACE - WHEN QUEEN’S AWAY

Hear ye who yearn to see inside Buckingham Palace but cannot marry into the family, visit as a head of state, be dubbed a knight, join the household staff or sneak past the guards.

Beginning Aug. 7, you can buy a ticket for 8 pounds on a first-come, first-serve basis. That's about $12.The Royal Household regrets to inform you, however, that Her Majesty will be out of town.

Queen Elizabeth II, under pressure to bolster the monarchy's sagging popularity and generate extra income, has agreed to let lesser mortals gawp at the lavish decor and priceless art in the formal rooms.

Tourists will have access to 18 rooms and halls in the State Apartments, which include some of the finest examples of 19th century architecture and decor and a treasure-trove of Old Masters, marble sculptures, tapestries, porcelain and antique furniture.

They will not be allowed anywhere near the royal family's private apartments.

"It is going to be the No. 1 attraction," said Isabel Coy, speaking for the British Tourist Authority. In fact, advance tickets are sold out until 1996.

"It's our living heritage. The real royal family runs a business from there. It's only open for a limited time, so there's that sort of exclusive cachet."

Buckingham Palace has been the official London residence of British monarchs since Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. It began as a mansion built in 1703 for the duke of Buckingham and bought by King George III in 1762 as a private residence.

The 600-room palace now on the site is the work of the London architect John Nash, who was hired by King George IV in the 1820s to design "a palace fit for a king."

Elizabeth II is opening it to tourists as a way of raising money to repair her beloved weekend home, Windsor Castle, damaged by fire in November.

Tourists will be admitted only during her annual summer holiday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, which runs this year from Aug. 7 to Oct. 1.

Edward Hewlett, managing director of Royal Collection Enterprises, which is organizing the tours, expects 7,000 visitors daily.

Among the highlights are some of the richest late Georgian and early Victorian interiors in existence and treasures from the Royal Collection. The collection includes 7,000 oil paintings, three times as many as in the National Gallery; an assemblage of 2,000 miniature paintings, the world's largest, and the finest collections anywhere of furniture and Sevres porcelain.

Masterpieces normally on view include three Rubens - notably "Shipbuilder and His Wife," for which George IV paid a record price in 1811 - three Rembrandts and five Van Dycks.

The tour begins at the Ambassador's Entrance on the south side of the palace, which opens onto the large central courtyard.