Kolkata's Marble Palace Is A Time-Traveling Portal Into Kolkata's Opulent Past

Kolkata's Marble Palace Is A Time-Traveling Portal Into Kolkata's Opulent Past

It is hard to articulate in words the murmurs of history swirling around the serpentine lanes of North Kolkata - it is best experienced. Nontheless, I shall still try my best. At 46 Muktaram Babu Street, stands a white palatial mansion that houses the rich echoes of the past. Entering Marble Palace, the 19th-century neo-classical wonder is like stepping into a time machine. It was built by Raja Rajendra Mullick in 1835, an influential merchant, art connoisseur, and philanthropist. Even though it is his private residence, the Marble Palace is also simultaneously a museum and a zoo. The mansion exudes Mullick’s eclectically global tastes and aesthetics and is one of the best-preserved and most appealing residences in Kolkata.

Marble Palace, Calcutta in 1945
Marble Palace, Calcutta in 1945www.library.upenn.edu/collections/sasia/calcutta1947

The Marble Palace, true to its name, has been built with 126 types of marble, procured from different parts of the world. The palace consists of five halls: the Painting Room, Reception Hall, Thakur Dalan, Sculpture Room, and the Billiards Room. The architectural design includes open courtyards, which is a traditional feature in Bengal. Adjacent to the courtyard is the Thakur-Dalan, the place of worship for the Mullick family. The three-story building is adorned with tall Corinthian pillars, beautifully decorated verandahs, and sloping roofs with intricate fretwork. According to experts, the palace has been constructed in a style reminiscent of a Chinese pavilion.

The Thakur Dalan of Marble Palace
The Thakur Dalan of Marble PalacePicasa
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The palace design incorporates intricate carvings that resemble those found in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The magnificent hallways are decorated with furniture, chandeliers, paintings, and sculptures dating back to the Victorian era. The sculptures include depictions of famous figures such as Homer, Diana, Venus, Apollo, Praxiteles, Phidias, and Moses. The Marble Palace is renowned for its collection of artworks by esteemed artists like Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Opie, Titian, and Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Notable paintings within the collection include Rubens' The Marriage of St Catherine and The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, as well as Reynolds' The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpent and Venus and Cupid. Furthermore, the palace serves as the backdrop for the well-known French novel, Le Vol Des Cigognes, written by Jean-Christophe Grangé.

A diverse collection of rare artworks are housed in Kolkata's Marble Palace
A diverse collection of rare artworks are housed in Kolkata's Marble PalaceConde Nast Traveller India

In the Music Room, there are elegant statues of Wellington and Napoleon, while the ballroom still retains candle chandeliers and silvered glass balls from the original 19th-century disco ball collection. The palace boasts 76 other rare artworks that were acquired and imported from Italy and Belgium in 1830. At the entrance, there is a large Japanese bronze vase, and the walls are lined with full-length Belgian glass mirrors, creating captivating illusions of more space. The expansive green lawns are adorned with statues representing various gods from different religions and beliefs. In the middle of the lawn, there is a marble fountain featuring the renowned statue of Leda and the Swan.

There comes the zoo, which is called Nilmani Niketan in honor of Mullick's father. It is said to be the first zoo in India that was accessible to the public. An intriguing aspect of the zoo is its focus on showcasing and safeguarding herbivorous animals, reflecting the owners' dietary preferences. Visitors can marvel at a variety of creatures such as porcupines, red-butt baboons, barking deer, hyacinth macaws, hornbills, magpies, and more. It is worth noting that this zoo remains the sole privately owned zoo in India.

While this is still a private residence for the descendants of the Mullick family, tours are offered at the property, where the caretakers will accompany you and provide insights into the history, background, owners, and the collection housed within the home. Reaching Marble Palace is not too arduous. It is 5 minutes away from the Girish Park Metro Station. But remember, that the palace is closed on Mondays and Thursdays. Photography is prohibited. Entry is free, but you must carry an ID and obtain a permit from the West Bengal Tourism Information Bureau one day prior.

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