Founded in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Hyderabad, is a city replete with royal traditions and regal history. During the early years of the 18th century it was India’s biggest and richest princely state and was ruled by the Nizams once Mughal power came to an end. While the city has grown much beyond its original walled boundaries and is synonymous with a flourishing IT industry, much of the city’s old quarter aka the Old city is steeped in history and has a distinct ancient vibe.
It’s skyline hosts some of the most fascinating monuments that are classic examples of Islamic Indian architecture. While the Charminar, Mecca Masjid, Faluknama Palace and Salarjung museum are some of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Chowmahalla palace is a hidden gem that is not to be missed when on a visit to the city.
Symbol of Nizam architecture
An evocative piece of Nizam architecture, the Chowmahalla palace was the official residence of the Nizams when they ruled Hyderabad. Located just about two kilometres from Charminar in the old city, Chowmahalla palace is a cornucopia of architectural styles and influences ranging from Baroque Harem to Persian to Neoclassical royal. The palace whose name translates into four palaces remains the property of Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah, heir of the Nizams and has been open to public since 2005. One of the oldest surviving monuments of the Nizam era, the Chowmahalla palace is known for its immaculate style and elegance.
Grandeur and Opulence
Spread over an area of 12 acres, the palace today consists of two courtyards, the much celebrated Khilwat Durbar, several fountains and lush green gardens. A visit to the palace is taking a journey back in time as it effortlessly transports you to the period of the Nizams. While the southern courtyard is the oldest part of complex and houses four palaces (Tahniyat Mahal, Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal and Aftab Mahal), the Northern courtyard was once the administrative headquarters of the palace.
There are several artefacts that have been well preserved in the “Hall of crafts”. They include not only furniture but various handwoven textiles and embroidery crafts that are over 200 years old, of which some originate from China, Persia and Japan. The “Hall of Crockery” reflects the celebratory nature of the Nizams and their fine taste in food and dining. The collection of porcelain utensils, crockery and tableware is priceless. Likewise, is the hall that displays the various weapons of the yesteryears.
The highlight of the palace is the Khilwat Mubarak which houses the exquisite durbar hall that was witness to several important events including the coronation of the VIII Nizam that was held in 1967. It is picture of splendour with crystal chandeliers, opulent furniture and intricate carvings. The clock tower is yet another remarkable feature in that the clock has been working with impeccable precision till date since the last 251 years!
For all automobile fans, the Chowmahalla palace has an enviable collection of vintage cars and carriages that were once used by the Nizams. The fleet has been perfectly maintained with neat display boards for the benefit of visitors. The cynosure of all eyes is of course the 1912 canary yellow Rolls Royce that was recently restored and refurbished to find a place of immense pride within the palace.
- Construction of the Chowmahalla palace was started in 1750 by Salabat Jung but only completed during the reign of Afzal ad-Dawlah, Asaf Jah V between 1857 and 1869.
- The palace originally covered a whopping area of 45 acres.
- The palace has been modelled as a replica of the Shah’s Palace in Teheran, Iran.
- The chimes of the clock tower are taken as a standard by the people of the locality even today and watches are adjusted in accordance with the timing of the palace clock.
- The 1912 Rolls Royce of the Nizams was originally built by Barkers of Edinburgh and was sparingly used in that it covered a distance of only 356 miles in a span of 26 years!
If you take a walk around the old city, you can still see what used to be one of the original entrances to the Chowmahalla Palace. Sadly, it remains in shambles now.
This article was originally published in the Tribune here.