Hawaii is known for more than its majestic scenery and abundant beauty. Every bit of Hawaii is rich in history, culture, and a sense of community. The Iolani Palace is a Hawaiian landmark that not only symbolizes Hawaii’s past but the heritage that Hawaiians are so proud of still today. Read on to understand why the luxurious, opulent, and spectacular Iolani Palace is one of Hawaii’s most-visited attractions.
It all began on December 31st, 1879, when the cornerstone for Iolani Palace was first laid. It was designed to house the Hawaiian monarchs, the royal family, and other important officials. Completed in 1882, the palace was home first to King Kalakaua and then nation’s last-reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. As a beacon of Hawaiian strength still today, she inspired her people after her brother, King Kalakaua died in 1981 by taking her rightful place.
In just a short time, the Iolani Palace served as more than the official, royal residency. It became Hawaii’s epicenter for political, social, and cultural life. It stood tall, in grandeur, until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893. After the monarchy fell, the palace went through a myriad of changes but was finally restored to its current glory in the 1970s, after being established as an American National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Iolani Palace was a truly magnificent sight to behold. It sits on the southern shores of Oahu and was designed to be the grandest piece of property Hawaii had ever seen, housing the royal family and government officials, and hosting official functions and dignitaries from all over the globe. As the center of Hawaiian culture, parties, dances, and important matters all occurred under the palace’s roof.
When completed, the massive palace had all of the up-to-date amenities you would expect and many that people didn’t expect in Hawaii at the time, like the nation’s first electric lights, indoor plumbing, and an advanced communications system. And aside from the building itself, the Palace Grounds matched Iolani’s spectacular opulence.
Iolani Palace was ahead of its time, impressed people from all walks of life, and put Hawaii on the international map. It still stands today as a symbol of Hawaii’s rich history, culture, and strength. Even today, Iolani Palace is considered the “spiritual and physical multicultural epicenter of Hawaii.”
There is extraordinary historical significance to the palace as well. Even the ground it was built on dates back to antiquity and is still believed today to be an ancient site of worship. The grounds were also home to King Kamehameha III and the first 5 Hawaiian Kings before the property was demolished to make way for the Iolani Palace.
Iolani Palace was restored to its original beauty and today houses artifacts, furniture, and pieces of Hawaiian culture that are visited by thousands of people each year. In addition to the Iolani Palace itself, visitors can enjoy the splendor of the grounds, which includes Keliiponi Hale, The Sacred Mound, and Hale Koa.
Hale Koa is also known as the Iolani Barracks and was originally designed to house the Royal Guard. The Sacred Mound is a mysterious and alluring area, marked off by fences to respect those who may be resting there. This site once served as a royal tomb for kings, queens, and other important Hawaiian chiefs. Keliiponi Hale, also known as the Coronation Pavilion, was used for the coronation of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani and is still used today as the location for the inauguration of Hawaii’s Governor.
Visitors can explore historical archives, browse the extensive collections within the palace, and even enjoy on-site concerts by the Royal Hawaiian Band at Iolani Palace.
As a symbol of Hawaii’s past, rich culture, and the strength of their people, Iolani Palace continues to inspire Hawaiian life today.
Visitors to Oahu often spend their time seeing the island’s most popular places: Waikiki Beach, the Pearl Harbor Memorial, and the Diamond Head crater. To truly soak in Hawaiian culture, however, you also don’t want to miss a visit to a heiau in Oahu. These Hawaiian temples were once used by native islanders to pray and make offerings or sacrifices to gods, goddesses, and spirits.
Heiaus were abandoned or destroyed in the 1800s when Christianity came to the Pacific islands. Today, the ruins of the surviving temples are preserved in historic sites that you can visit.
Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site in Oahu’s North Shore is the largest heiau on the island. According to historians, this site was overseen by priests and consists of three walled enclosures that once likely held structures. Worshippers may have lit a fire to communicate to the heiau on Kauai. The Pu’u O Mahuka name means “hill of escape,” perhaps because volcano goddess Pele jumped from here to the neighboring island, Molokai, after feuding with her sister, Namakaokahai. From the historic site, you can view the Waimea Valley and Oahu’s North Shore.
Inland from Kailua Bay, you’ll find Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site. What was once a large structure, possibly a tower, is now a 30-foot-tall mound of rocks near a stream and marsh. It is believed native islanders used the area for farming fish and growing crops. Legend says the area may have been built or inhabited by Menehune, or little people who lived on the islands before Polynesians settled here. Today, visitors to Ulupo say they feel a sense of peace.
The sacred site of Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area was once a heiau for healing. People who were sick or injured would come here to visit the kahuna, to pray, and be healed. The kahuna would also train other healers here and store medicines. Historians believe that healing plants used to grow here, but now Keaiwa Heiau is a forested park with a 4.8-mile hiking trail and a campground. The trail provides views of Pearl Harbor. This is also a beautiful place for a picnic.
If you’re looking to see a native Hawaiian building at a heiau, visit Hale O Lono Heiau in Waimea Valley. This is the site of a temple dedicated to Lono, the god of fertility, peace, and rain. This heiau dates back to 1470 AD and is still used today for traditional practices. Many people visit the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens and hike to the waterfall here.
On the eastern end of Oahu, take in the beautiful ocean views at Makapu’u Beach Park, where you can see a small heiau. You’ll see a low stone wall with signs. While you’re in the area, see the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline and take the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail for more beautiful views of the eastern shore.
There are more heiaus on Oahu — including the lesser-known Pahua and Maunawila heiaus — and on other islands across Hawaii. When visiting these sacred sites, respect these ancient temples and let them stay intact for their preservation of Hawaiian culture.
Hawaii is a multicultural state, and it attracts people who want to share aspects of cultures that they love. One of those people was Doris Duke, the daughter of a New York tobacco and hydroelectric tycoon who used her inheritance to fund a wide range of interests, charitable giving, and traveling through the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa. In 1937, she had a home built in Honolulu where she could share one of her major interests, Islamic art, with the world.
She was born November 22, 1912 to Nanaline Holt Inman and James Buchanan Duke. She grew up in New York and New Jersey, and she became famous for her colorful personal life and interests in horticulture, philanthropy, and art. Part of her charitable work included working in a canteen for sailors in Egypt during WWII, giving money to medical research and child welfare groups, and creating a charity to preserve historic colonial homes. She died in 1993 from a pulmonary edema following a severe stroke.
Doris Duke traveled extensively. In 1935, she visited the Taj Mahal and was inspired to build something similar. She and her then husband, James Cromwell, bought land at Diamond Head in 1936, and had an airy, spacious home built there in 1937. The home consists of multiple open-air courtyards teaming with fountains and foliage, themed rooms such as the Mihrab room and the Syrian room, and a separate peristyle building at one end of a pool called ‘the playhouse.’ They called this home Shangri La.
She decorated Shangri La with furniture, colored-glass windows, and screens from Moroccan workshops, but she did not stop there. She spent years collecting Iznik tiles, a type of pottery from Turkey that has a clear lead glaze, and used it in her home decor. She reconstructed the Mughal Garden (she loved horticulture and had a whole farm dedicated to it) and brought an 18th-century Syrian interior home with her.
During WWII, she couldn’t go to her Shangri-La, so she let soldiers stationed in Honolulu use it for recreation. Afterwards, she created the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art to encourage the study of the sort of art she had filled her Hawaiian home with. The foundation still owns the house and uses it as a museum, sponsoring cultural programs and residency programs for artists who promote the understanding and appreciation of Islamic art. They also preserve the 2,500 pieces of art she had collected. The museum itself is a piece of art, with many of the exhibited collections, such as her Iznik tiles, being part of the structure. There are pieces from many countries including Spain, Iran, Egypt, and Morocco, and the art spans multiple time periods. If you go there, you will see everything from silk carpets to pottery made throughout the world.
The foundation gives guided tours of the grounds in partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art. In fact, the tours start and end at the Honolulu Museum of Art, so you can get a two-for-one art experience if you want to. Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday, at 9 am, 10:30 am, and 1:30 pm. Guests will have to reserve tickets in advance, but they get a shuttle ride to the museum and a knowledgeable tour guide.
If you would like to preview what you might see at this lovely museum, check out their temporary homepage at https://www.shangrilahawaii.org/. You’ll find events, artists, and information about joining tours.