Walking down the lanes of history in Kolkata

Walking down the lanes of history in Kolkata

January 24, 2016

The capital city of West Bengal is a hub of heritage tourism in India. The many beautiful buildings built by the British during colonial rule led to it being called the ‘City of Palaces.’ The fine weather now is a good to time to explore many of these places.

Victoria Memorial

The Victoria Memorial is a majestic domed structure in white marble. It was built in memory of Queen Victoria in the early 20th century. It is an 184-foot tall edifice constructed on 64 acres of land. The total expenditure of building Victoria Memorial was around Rs 150,000,000. This magnificent structure was designed by Sir William Emerson, and was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales. In the museum inside, one can view photos of prominent personalities who made an incredible contribution to the glory of India. The Victoria Memorial is also one of the finest art museums in Kolkata.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral is one of the most important relics of religious architecture in Kolkata. The church took eight years to build, and was finished in 1847. It was magnificently designed by Major William Forbes, with the assistance of CK Robinson.

Nakhoda Mosque

This majestic religious building was a small mosque in the beginning. It was in 1926 that Abdar Rahim Osman built the present structure. It was constructed following the style of Akbar's tomb in Sikandra, which is a piece of Indo-Saracenic architecture. The gateway of the mosque resembles the Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri. For its construction, granite stones were brought from Tolepur. Inside the Nakhoda Mosque there is a fabulous exhibition of ornaments and art. It is the biggest mosque in the city. More than 10,000 men can perform namaaz in the prayer hall. In the centre of the premise is a dome and two minarets.

Armenian Church

The Armenian Church is unique in the sense that it was built by the Armenian merchants who once formed an important trading community of Kolkata. It was constructed in 1764. The internal walls are ornamented with marble, while the overhead gallery has mural tablets. Three oil paintings – 'The Holy Trinity,' 'The Last Supper' and 'The Enshrouding of Our Lord' – by the English artist AE Harris add to the glory of the altar. The ruins of the Armenian cemetery are there in the church premises.

Pareshnath Jain Temple

The Pareshnath Jain Temple is located in the north-eastern part of the city. It is actually a complex of four temples. The main shrine is dedicated to the 10th Jain avatar (incarnation of God), Sri Sital Nath Ji. The temple gateway is really worth seeing. The temple is decorated with mirrors, coloured stones and mosaics made of glass. It has a beautiful garden around it. It has blocks of glass mosaics and European statues painted with silver paint. Its construction was commissioned by Ray Badridas Bahadur in 1867. The aesthetic beauty and serenity attracts tourists from across the globe. Another notable feature is a lamp inside which burns with ghee and is never allowed to be extinguished.

St. Johns’ Church

This iconic structure in the BBD Bag area was the first Anglican Church of India. It has been designed in the style of London's popular St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. The beautiful blend of steeple and portico having columns has became the model of colonial church architecture with time. Inside, there are several rare portraits of the late archbishops of Canterbury. There is the notable painting of 'The Last Supper' by the famous German painter Johann Zoffani. The cemetery inside houses the graves of Job Charnock, Admiral Watson, Julius Imhoff and other important people.

Marble Palace

The Marble Palace on Muktaram Babu Street is an exquisitely engineered palatial mansion that was built by Raja Rajendra Mullick Bahadur, who was one of the wealthiest landlords of Bengal, in 1835. Its sheer magnificence and scintillating artistry captivates one and all. This architectural masterpiece uses Italian marble extensively. The lush green lawn in front of it is clad with statues of Hindu Gods, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, the great explorer Christopher Columbus, Lord Buddha and also some lions. Special attractions of the Marble Palace include: a room decorated with mirrors containing prized works of Ruben, Reynolds and others; a collection of 82 different types of exquisite clocks; an elegant fountain in the midst of a serene lake in the north-eastern side.

Indian Museum

The Indian Museum is the largest museum in India. It has rare collections of antiques, armours, ornaments, fossils, skeletons, mummies, and Mughal paintings. It was founded as the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1814. The founder curator was Dr Nathaniel Wallich, a Danish botanist. Among its well-known exhibits are an Egyptian mummy, the Buddhist stupa from Bharhut, ashes of the Buddha, an Ashoka pillar, whose four-lion symbol became the official emblem of the Republic of India, fossil skeletons of prehistoric animals, an art collection, rare antiques, and a collection of meteorites.

Shahid Minar

The Shahid Minar or Ochterlony Monument, as it was originally called, was built by Sir David Ochterlony in 1948 to immortalise his astounding triumph in the Nepal War of 1814-1816. It was contrived by a famous British architect JP Parker. There is an exquisite blend of Syrian, Egyptian and Turkish engineering in its construction. Standing at approximately 48 m, it is situated in the Maidan region in the heart of Kolkata. At night, it is illuminated by a dazzling shower of bright lights.A special pass from the Deputy Commissioner of Police at Lalbazar is required to gain access to this tower.

Jorasanko Thakurbari

If you are familiar with Bengali culture and the works of the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, then the Jorasanko Thakurbari is a 'must-see.' The Thakurbari has been preserved meticulously. By seeing items of daily use, such as kitchen utensils and bedroom arrangements, you can feel a personal touch with the Renaissance era of Bengal. The displayed artworks and photograph collections are invaluable.

National Library

The National Library is situated in the majestic Belvedere estate on Belvedere Road, just opposite the Alipore Zoo. It is the largest and oldest library in India. The entire estate area spans around 30 acres, full of thick greenery and well-maintained parks. The mail building is around 150 years old. This marvellous building of the British era used to be the residence of the then Lieutenant General of Bengal. Currently, the library has a collection of over 2.2 million books in different regional languages covering almost every possible subject and aspect.

Though busy roads full of chaotic traffic circle this majestic estate, as soon as you enter it you can feel the silence and tranquility of nature which automatically brings a peace of mind, keeping you totally engage in undisturbed reading in this temple of knowledge.

Fort William

Fort William, or the citadel of Kolkata (then Calcutta), is named after King William III of England. The British East India Company’s main Bengal trading station was moved from Hooghly to Kolkata in 1690 after a war with the Mughals. Between 1696 and 1702 a fort was built here, with the Nawab of Bengal’s permission.

In 1756, the fort was captured by Sirāj al-Dawlah, the Nawab of Bengal. After the recovery of the city (then a small town) in 1757, the fort was demolished and a new one constructed farther south, with an unobstructed field of fire. This latter fort, completed in 1773, is the one that can be seen today.

Shobhabazar Rajbari

The Shobhabazar Rajbari is located in the northern part of Kolkata. This Rajbari or palace at Shobhabazar was constructed by Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb, although there are contradicting stories on this. It is often said that Raja Nabakrishna Deb (1733-1797) took over this palace from Shobharam Basak and extended it to look like what it appears today.

The Shobhabazar Rajbari is renowned for the illustrious Durga Puja. Nabakrishna Deb is known for initiating this Durga Puja at the Rajbari. Being one of the ancient buildings in north Kolkata, the Rajbari has a heritage of its own.

Prinsep Ghat

Located on Strand Road, Prinsep Ghat is one of the oldest and most beautiful monuments in Kolkata. It was built in 1841 as a memorial to James Princep, a brilliant scholar who was the secretary of the Asiatic Society from 1832 to 1838, and is best remembered for deciphering the Kharosthi and Brahmi scripts of ancient India.The ghat was opened to the public in 1843. This monument was later restored by West Bengal government. You can while away your time by looking at the stunning Vidyasagar Setu (popularly called Second Hooghly Bridge) and feel the cool breeze on your face.

And the statues...

Kolkata is full of statues celebrating the British heritage, Indian Renaissance and freedom movement. The Maidan is a particularly good place for statue-hunting. That apart you can also check out the statue of Subhas Chandra Bose at the Shyambazar five-point crossing, that of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar on the premises of Sanskrit College on College Street  or of David Hare on the precincts of Presidency University. The last-mentioned one was built in 1847 and is one of Kolkata's best marble statues.

Lead image: wikitravel.org

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