The Marble Palace – Calcutta (Kolkata), West Bengal, India

Echoes from the Paris of Asia

Leave the bewildering maelstrom of Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) street life and step into the cool interior of the Marble Palace for a spin back to the 19th century.

Making lavish use of Italian marble, the deep-pocketed Raja Rajendra Mullick Bahadur created his personal folly, typical of the period’s ostentation and the rajas’ expensive emulation of haute Western civilization. Maintenance is not the strong suit of this crumbling city, where decrepit but stately buildings are clothed in moss and mildew, and this cavernous, once-grand mansion is no excep­tion. It’s now a ghostly stage set (often used by Indian film crews) that only hints at splendors and gala dinners from the days when Calcutta was the capital of the Raj, the second city in the British Empire after London.

Descendants of the original owners live in the upper quar­ters, leaving the lower floors – chockablock with inlaid mirrors, paintings, and memories – open to the public. One can only imagine the heirlooms that have been sold off here and there, but look what remains: a Reynolds, a Rubens, crystal chandeliers the size of elephants, enor­mous Baroque ballrooms and billiard rooms, Uffizi-like corridors with marble statuary and inlaid-mosaic floors, and an empty throne room where an errant peacock roams.

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