V could have been Vidyasagar Setu (Second Hooghly bridge) – one of the longest cable stayed bridge in Asia connecting Kolkata with Howrah or Vivekananda Setu (Bally Bridge) – the multi-span steel bridge linking Bally to Kolkata . But the one that deserves to be featured is the heritage monument that has been a representation of the city for age – the gorgeous Victoria Memorial.
Victoria Memorial –
Victoria Memorial is a large marble building in Kolkata, built between 1906 and 1921 dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria (1819–1901). Located on 1 Queen’s way, it is now a popular tourist destination. Representing the resplendent and majestic British architecture, Victoria Memorial Hall stands as a veritable icon of the city of Kolkata.
The Victoria Memorial Hall was built in memory of the Queen Victoria by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. The memorial celebrated the 25 year reign of the Queen over India. Lord Curzon wanted to demonstrate his gratitude by dedicating a monument to her.Along with the memorial, Curzon had plans for a museum within the premises. The historical museum was intended to be a standing record of history.
He managed to raise an amount of 5 lakhs rupees and selected Sir William Emerson, the President of the British Institute of Architects for the project. The construction work was delegated to Messrs. Martin & Co. from Kolkata. The Prince of Wales together with King George V laid the foundation stone on 4 January 1906. The park was finally opened to visitors in 1921.
William Emerson designed the memorial in the Indo-Saracenic revivalist style which had a mixture of British and Mughal elements along with Venetian, Egyptian, Deccani and Islamic architectural influences. The building is 338 feet by 228 feet and rises to a height of 184 feet . It is constructed of white Makrana marble.
The gardens were designed by Lord Redesdale and David Prain. Emerson’s assistant – Vincent Jerome Esch, designed the bridge of the north aspect and the garden gates.
Atop the central dome of the Victoria Memorial is the 16 ft figure of the Angel of Victory. Surrounding the dome are allegorical sculptures including Art, Architecture, Justice, and Charity while above the North Porch Motherhood, Prudence and Learning exist.
It is quite surprising to see the similarities between Victoria memorial and Taj Mahal. Other than the same white marble used for construction, few other features like the dome, four subsidiaries, octagonal-domed chattris, high portals, terrace and domed corner towers of both these monuments are quite identical.
Victoria Memorial has 25 galleries including the royal gallery, national leaders gallery, portrait gallery, central hall, sculpture gallery, arms and armoury gallery and the latest Calcutta gallery. It has the single largest collection of the works of Thomas Daniell (1749–1840) and his nephew, William Daniell (1769–1837). The Victoria Memorial also has a huge collection of rare and antiquarian books such as the illustrated works of William Shakespeare, the Arabian Nights and the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam among others.
The garden covers an area of 64 acres. It was designed by Redesdale and David Prain. There is a bronze statue of Victoria by George Frampton in which she is seated on her throne, wearing the robes of the Star of India. In the paved quadrangles and elsewhere around the building, other statues commemorate Hastings, Charles Cornwallis , Robert Clive, Arthur Wellesley, and James Broun-Ramsay. Approaching the Victoria Memorial building from the south, there is the Edward VII memorial arch, Upon which there is a bronze equestrian statue of Edward VII and a marble statue of Lord Curzon . The garden contains statues of dignitaries such as Lord William Bentinck, , George Robinson, and Rajendra Nath Mookerjee (a pioneer industrialist of Bengal).
Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm while the garden is open on all days from 5:30 am to 6:15 pm.
The Victoria Memorial Hall holds Light & Sound (Son-et-Lumiere) shows. The show entitled: ‘Pride & Glory – the Story of Calcutta’ was designed as a joint venture with the Bengal Chamber of Commerce.
Just outside the main gate there’s an option of hiring a buggy/tonga(horse cart) coach for a fun ride across the streets around the memorial. Since Maidan is also nearby, taking a stroll along the stretch of Maidan is a viable option. St. Paul’s Cathedral is at a walking distance while Park Street with its multiple restaurant options is also just a few minutes away. Just opposite to the monument there are ample street food options. Not to forget that this is one of the areas famous for mouth-watering phuchkas in the city is right here.
The personal angle –
I have forgotten the count of visits to this stunning monument as a child and during my years as a student in Kolkata. But the best memory associated with this place is of a visit here with my toddler last December. While he was awestruck by the humongous building and enjoyed running around in the garden, the happiness on his face during the tonga ride stays unmatched till date. We ended up taking three trips instead of one because he simply refused to get down, not to forget that he actually wanted to bring home the horses. And of course we returned only after I had savored phuchkas to my heart’s content.
Enjoy this joy-ride until we meet tomorrow with another interesting topic.