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Raj Bhavan Kolkata

Raj Bhavan is the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal, located in the capital city Kolkata. Built in 1803, it was known as Government House before the independence of India. After the transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858, it became the official residence of the Viceroy of India, shifting here from the Belvedere Estate. With the shifting of capital to Delhi in 1911 it became the official residence of Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. Since independence in 1947 it serves as the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal and came to be known as the Raj Bhavan, a name it shares with the official residences of other states' governors. In the early nineteenth century Calcutta (Kolkata) was at the height of its golden age. Known as the City of Palaces or St. Petersburg of the East, Calcutta was the richest, largest and the most elegant colonial cities of India. It was during this time that one of Calcutta's finest colonial structures, Government House (later Raj Bhavan), was constructed. Before 1799, the Governor-General resided in a rented house, called Bukimham House, located in the same location. The land belonged to Mohammad Reza Khan, a Nawab of Chitpur. It was in 1799 that the then Governor-General of India, The 1st Marquess Wellesley, took the initiative of building a palace, because he believed that India should be ruled from a palace and not from a country house. Lord Wellesley wanted to make a statement to the imperial authority and power and so the building was done on a grand scale. After 4 years construction it was completed at a colossal cost of £63,291 (about £3.8 million in today’s estimate). Wellesley was charged for misusing of East India Company’s fund and was finally recalled back to England in 1805. Although Wellesley lost his job, he does have the credit of giving Kolkata one of its finest colonial mansions. In 1892, the Otis Elevator Company installed the first elevator in India at the Raj Bhavan. Designed by Capt. Charles Wyatt and on the lines of the Curzon’s family mansion of the Kedleston Hall of Derbyshire, the Raj Bhavan follows a Neoclassical style with distinct Baroque overtones. In a strange coincidence, a 100 years after its construction started, the most illustrious son of the Curzon family, George Nathaniel Curzon came to occupy the Raj Bhavan as the Viceroy of India. Lord Curzon described the Government House as “without doubt the finest Government House occupied by the representative of any Sovereign or Government in the world.” Since the days of Lord Wellesley the Raj Bhavan had undergone several changes. In 1860s the Viceroy Lord Elgin added the metallic Dome. Lord Curzon brought electricity and lift (popularly known as the ‘Bird Cage Lift”) to Raj Bhavan. The tiny ornamentally designed “Bird Cage Lift” operates to this day. The plan comprises a central core with four radiating wings. The state rooms located in the central core are accessed from the outside by a flight of grand steps on the north. On the south is another portico surmounted by a colonnaded verandah with a dome above. The four wings accommodate the various offices and residential quarters along with four sets of staircases. The plan of the wings allows for a great deal of natural ventilation in the spaces while also permitting views across the gardens. The entire compound is surrounded by a balustraded wall with a grand arched gateways. The Raj Bhavan covers an area of 84,000 sq. ft. and is surrounded by a compound covering an area of 27 acres. The Raj Bhavan has 6 gate ways one each on North & South and 2 each on East & West. The 4 gates on the East & West have a grand arch ways topped with a lion. The minor archways on the side are topped with Sphinx. Sadly these 4 colossal gates hardly provide a good view of the Raj Bhavan. The best view of the Raj Bhavan is obtained from the North Gate, which also serves as the main gate. A long walk past a decorated Chinese cannon leads to a flight of stairs to the portico crowned with the triangular pediment supported by six ionic pillars. The Chinese cannon, mounted on a dragon and flanked with minor cannons, was brought from Nanking in 1842. An inscription on a marble plaque reads “The peace dictated to the Emperor of China under the walls of Nanking by the military force of England and of India.” The South gate also provides a grand view, with the tree lined drive leading on to the lofty ionic pillars supporting the huge metallic dome. Entry inside the complex is strictly prohibited but photography is allowed from outside the gates with permission of the officer in charge at the gate. The plan comprises a central core with four radiating wings. The state rooms located in the central core are accessed from the outside by a flight of grand steps on the north. On the south is another portico surmounted by a colonnaded verandah with a dome above. The four wings accommodate the various offices and residential quarters along with four sets of staircases. The plan of the wings allows for a great deal of natural ventilation in the spaces while also permitting views across the gardens. The entire compound is surrounded by a balustraded wall with a grand arched gateway at each of the four cardinal points. The plan of the building is very typical, a little like a man standing on his feet and holding two boxes in his two hands. The front of the palace faces north-east.

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