26 Oct 2022 10:35 AM GMT
The Victoria Memorial is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Kolkata. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons) 
New Delhi: The picturesque Victoria Memorial is one of the most prominent places in Kolkata, a place which has become intricately entwined with the identity of the city. Representing the resplendent and majestic British architecture, Victoria Memorial Hall stands today, as a veritable icon of the city of Kolkata. The huge monument made of white marble, which is located in the heart of the City of Joy, is one of the most famous monuments in West Bengal that has become a museum and a popular tourist spot of the state. The monument is one of the first things that an outsider coming to Kolkata wishes to visit.
The Victoria Memorial is a brainchild of Lord Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston and Viceroy of India, and was dedicated to Queen Victoria, the Empress of India from 1876 to 1901. This grand and exquisite memorial not only stands as a reminiscence of the rule of the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent but also stands out as an excellent architectural gem in the Indo-Saracenic revivalist style. It is a must-visit tourist destination for first-time visitors to experience the essence of the Victorian era in the midst of the bustling metro city of Kolkata.

Queen Victoria was the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland since June 20, 1837, and the Empress of India since May 1, 1876. After her death on January 22, 1901, Lord Curzon came up with the idea of constructing a colossal and grand building with a museum and gardens where one and all can have a glimpse of the rich past.

The foundation stone of the Victoria Memorial was laid on January 4, 1906, by the Prince of Wales George V who later became King George V on May 6, 1910. It was opened to the public in 1921, but it became part of a provincial city instead of the capital city as by the time its construction was completed, the capital of India was transferred from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to New Delhi under the instruction of King George V. Curzon made an appeal to raise fund for the construction of the memorial and many including royals, individuals, as well as the British government in London, came forward to contribute. The total cost of building the memorial was Rs 105, 00,000.

The chief architect of the Victoria Memorial was William Emerson, the then president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and it was designed in Indo-Saracenic revivalist style. It included a blend of British architectural style with that of Egyptian, Venetian, Deccani, Mughal and other Islamic styles. Makrana marble brought from Jodhpur was used for its construction, and it measures 103 m by 69 m with a height of 56 m. Scottish physician and botanist Sir David Prain and Lord Redesdale designed the vast garden areas covering 64 acres while garden gates and the bridge of the north aspect were designed by Vincent J. Esch. Messrs. At present, the garden is presently maintained by a group of 21 gardeners. The construction work of the memorial was carried out by Martin & Co. of Kolkata. Certain additions were made to the memorial after India gained Independence.

Inside the memorial, there are 25 galleries including the royal gallery, the sculpture gallery and a gallery dedicated to Kolkata. There are several portraits of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and oil paintings portraying different moments of their lives which have been displayed in the royal gallery.

The gallery dedicated to Kolkata is a new addition, the concept of which was advocated in the mid-1970s by the then minister for education, Saiyid Nurul Hasan. He became Governor of Bengal and Odisha as also Chairman of the memorial’s Board of Trustees in 1986 and in 1992 the Calcutta gallery was opened. The gallery shows glimpses of yesteryear Kolkata and its gradual development through the visual displays of the gallery starting from the days of Job Charnock during the 17th century to 1911 when New Delhi replaced Kolkata as India’s capital. Another addition, the National Leader’s gallery displays relics and portraits associated with Indian independence.

The Victoria Memorial has a remarkable collection of paintings, artefacts, weapons, textiles, coins and stamps among others and maintains a few possessions of the Queen like her writing desk and chair and scrapbooks. A rare collection of books is preserved there like the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam and the masterpieces of William Shakespeare.

On the marble staircase at the entrance of the memorial is a bronze statue of Queen Victoria seated on a bronze throne wearing robes of the Star of India. Other statues around the building include that of Edward VII, Curzon, Dalhousie and Hastings among others. Another attraction of the memorial is the Angel of Victory, a black bronze angel placed atop its dome. Fixed to its pedestal with ball bearings, the Angel of Victory with a bugle in her hand rotates as the wind blows strongly. Several allegorical sculptures like Justice, Motherhood, Architecture, Learning and Prudence in and around the dome enhance the British aura of the place.

The Victoria Memorial is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Kolkata and also a favourite spot for family and friends to hang out. As night falls, the lighting of the Victoria Memorial makes it look even more mesmerizing.

One can visit the museum of Victoria Memorial Hall from 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays excluding Mondays. It remains closed on Republic Day, Holi, Independence Day, Id-ul-Fitr, Gandhi Jayanti, Dusserah and Christmas. The entry fee per person to the museum is Rs 10 for Indians and Rs 150 for foreigners. Entry is free for uniformed school children up to 12 years of age and for uniformed Army personnel. The garden area remains open for visitors all around the year from 5.30 am to 7 pm. Entry ticket per person is Rs 4 (daily), Rs 100 (monthly), and Rs 1000 (yearly). However, visitors may get a restricted entry to the garden by order of the authority.

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