Even after 70 years, the British left the country, reconnecting with Bengal’s colonial architectural heritage is appealing. West Bengal houses some of the most amazing, sophisticated architectural pieces that were once worked by the Europeans with the goal to transform the state into European pleasure. While speaking of colonial architecture, we usually address to the colonial institutions in Kolkata that the British erected, or the mansions of Kolkata, especially of North Kolkata, where some renowned families or persons once lived or still accommodate. But the cultural or architectural heritage of Bengal neither only cocoons in West Bengal’s capital nor only connected with British glory. There’s lot more.
If we try tracing out the DNA of the colonial architectures, the deep-rooted history of all the European invaders, including Portuguese, French, and Dutch will come to the front. Even to pen down the complete guide of colonial architectures, we must consider the aristocratic palaces of the Zamindars, scattered in the corners of West Bengal.
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Explore European Architectural Engineering, Other Than the British, in Hoogly
The chromosome of the distinct European architecture speaks about the early European invasions. And Hoogly District most strongly spreads the redolent of the bygone era. Places like Sreerampore, Chandannagar, and Chuchura of Hoogly carry the signatures of French, Danes, Dutch, Portuguese and even the Armenian annexations in Bengal.
The Saint Olav’s church of Danish and Scandinavian origin; Edwardian Clock tower in Chinsurah or popularly known as “Ghorir More”; Chandan Nagar Museum, an edifice of French influence; 200 years old Sacred Heart Church; Armenian Church of St. John the Baptist, the oldest Armenian church of country or most prominently the Bandel Church- all of them recollect the remnant of the imperial pomp of the Europeans.
The Zamindar Palaces
The Zamindar Palaces were unique architectural anomalies in colonial history. The direct influence of the European, especially the British architecture shapes the outlook of the palaces and still claim for astonishment. Here is a precise list of Zamindari mansions that seize architectural history of Kolkata rather Bengal with their notable colonial structures.
- Rajbaris of Kolkata:
Take a tour at Sova Bajar Rajbari, Laha Bari, Naya Bazaar Mullick Bari, the house of Sir Jyotindra Mohan Tagore of the Pathuriaghata Tagore family, Tripura House on Ballygunge Circular Road, or Jora Sanko Thakurbari and you will witness the perfect representation of typical architectural trends of 19th century colonized Bengal. The porticos, stained glass windows, colonnaded verandas and the exquisite chandeliers will remind you of the classical Doric/Palladian and Neo-classical style of colonial architecture.
All of them produce awe and import historic value, but we select two mansions to decode their dignified architectural approaches.
Chor Bagan Marble Palace: It can defeat any of the mansions in magnificence and degree of construction. At the entrance is a marble bust of Alexander the Great on a stone pedestal. The staircase is an engineering marvel because the entire flight of steps does not have any support from beneath and those cast-iron statues can be found only in Buckingham Palace. Built almost a hundred years ago, the house has 54 rooms, adjoining it is a huge rectangular lake. Noted film-maker Satyajit Ray shot two of his masterpieces — Jalsaghar and Ghare Baire — in this sprawling one-acre mansion. The Marble Palace is the best known and possibly the most elegant in Kolkata. Adjacent to the flat-roofed Jagannath temple, built in 1821 is a pond with elaborate fountains and a teeming population of pelicans. Of particular interest are the marble lions that dot the gardens outside the palace.
Pathuriaghata Ghosh Rajbari: Built by Khelat Chandra Ghosh, the mansion’s pillared and arched inner courtyard is possibly the most elegant of the North Calcutta houses. Inside, a marble staircase with wood paneling on either side ends in a corridor lined with blue and white elephants, originally used as flowerpot stands. A striking feature in the dining hall, which was once a nach ghar (dance hall), is a Belgian cut-glass chandelier. In the study, a Thomasson Chronometre grandfather clock, brought from London to Kolkata in 1819, holds pride of place.
You can also see the colonial architecture of the buildings in rural parts of the state where they are inhabited by the descendants of the original occupants. Some examples are the Bishnupur Rajbari in Bankura, Itachuna Rajbari in Hooghly, Baruipur RajBari in South 24 Parganas, Bardhaman Rajbari in Bardhaman and so on.
Kolkata: A City That Resonates Colonial Nostalgia
Starting from mid 18th Century to the end of 19th century, the British Imperialism built numerous architectural signs in Kolkata or Calcutta (as it was named till 2001) with distinctive purposes. Some were built to boast of their colonial pride and the rest were erected for logical intentions.
Victoria Memorial is one of the best examples of British architecture in Calcutta built during that era. Fort William, the General Post-office, The Great Eastern Hotel, Belvedere Estate, Kolkata Town Hall, Calcutta High Court and of course Saint Paul’s Cathedral and make you take a walk down the memory lane definitely reminds you of a different historical past. They become Synonymous with Kolkata’s Colonial Nostalgia.
All of them generate admiration and trade of notable significance, but we go elaborate for two edifices that have grand architectural designs.
Writers’ Building: It was built in 1776, as the first three-storeyed structure in the city, for junior officers (writers) of East India Company. Later in the year 1882 though, the construction experienced a colossal alteration with a Graeco-Roman style of architecture.
The Central Telegraph Office: It was 1873 when the British erected The Central Telegraph Office. The original idea of having an Italian clock tower did not fulfill but it turned out to be one of the most outstanding colonial pieces of British architecture existing in Kolkata. The monuments do not restrict themselves in sublime British Architectural influence rather some of them convey Gothic style whereas some are the finest examples of Roman Doric approach.
Another Face of Kolkata: Bengali-European Colonial Architecture of The Middle-class Houses
The landscape of English trading interests persuaded East India Company to set up some buildings. It resulted the growths of the neoclassical buildings in the headquarter in Bengal, i.e. Calcutta. It has been 106 years the British shifted capital from Calcutta to Delhi. But the colonial edifices make us recall how they resolutely wanted to keep the abode of the natives apart and intimidated. Interestingly, on the other hand, a new architectural trend came up in the 19th and 20th century that talks about the amalgamation of colonial culture in the Bengal. We can call it Bengali-European patterns.
As Amit Chaudhury (author and social reformer, who is trying to safeguard Kolkata’s heritage) noted, the “slatted windows, cornices, open rooftops and red floors” would define the colonial houses. These Bengali-European heritages are bit different from Mumbai’s neo-Gothic colonial buildings. They are the middle class or the upper-middle-class houses of colonized Calcutta. Go to North Kolkata and find the colonial architecture in a surplus number.
Irrespective of time and context, the interiors explain a sentiment besides a cosmopolitan culture, being a prototype of historical architecture. The saddest part is the acquisitions by the land sharks and the corporate evolution of the city are pushing these colonial architectures to the edge of existence.