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The solar was a room in many English and French medieval manor houses, great houses and castles, generally situated on an upper storey, designed as the family's private living and sleeping quarters. In such houses, the main ground-floor room was known as the Great Hall, in which all members of the household, including tenants, employees and servants, would eat. Those of highest status would be at the end, often on a raised dais, and those of lesser status further down the hall. But a need was felt for more privacy to be enjoyed by the head of the household, and, especially, by the senior women of the household. The solar was a room for their particular benefit, in which they could be alone (or sole) and away from the hustle, bustle, noise and smells (including cooking smells) of the Great Hall.
The solar was generally smaller than the Great Hall, because it was not expected to accommodate so many people, but it was a room of comfort and status, and usually included a fireplace and often decorative woodwork or tapestries/wall hangings.
In manor houses of western France, the solar was sometimes a separate tower or pavilion, away from the ground-floor hall (great hall) to provide more privacy to the lord and his family.
The etymology of solar is often mistaken as derived from the sun but this is not so. This misconstrual may result from the common usage of the solar: embroidery, reading, writing, and other generally solitary activities. These activities would need good sunlight, and it is true that most solars were built facing south to take maximum advantage of daylight hours, but that characteristic was neither required nor the source of the name. The source of the word may be related to the French word for 'alone': seul(e), pronounced 'seul','sœl'. The name fell out of use after the sixteenth century and its later equivalent was the [with]drawing room.
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