Victoria Memorial: a walk through art and heritage in Kolkata

Hitaishi Majumder | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The cosmopolitan city of Kolkata is a distinctive centre of historical lineage and cultural heritage. Widely dubbed as the cultural capital of India today, Kolkata was the capital of India from 1773 to 1911 under the British rule. The stunning monuments of the city bear testament to its rich political history. And out of all such historical landmarks, the one that has become the emblem of the city is the magnificent Victoria Memorial. The Victoria Memorial that was built to commemorate Queen Victoria, today serves as a grand museum and a verdant, tranquil refuge for leisure hours. The grand white monument, with its immaculate architecture, a huge collection of art, and pride of place is a must-visit on your trip to the City of Joy

The awe-inspiring architecture

© Unsplash/ Shahbaz Khan

Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905, proposed the idea of the Victoria Memorial to pay tribute to Queen Victoria after the British Empress’ death in 1901. William Emerson, the eminent British architect, laid out the plan for the memorial that ultimately opened its doors in 1921. And, what a remarkable memorial it turned out to be! The structure, designed in the Indo-Saracenic revival style, is built with white Makrana marbles sourced from Jaipur, Rajasthan. The pristine monument is a melting pot of Islamic, Deccan, British, Venetian and Egyptian architectural elements that will leave you awestruck. Look out for the dome of the Victoria Memorial, which is a treasure trove of intricate sculptures. It houses emblematic figures of art, charity, justice and architecture. The north porch of the monument is home to the sculptures of learning, motherhood and prudence. And at the top of the dome, there is the notable bronze statue of Nike, the Angel of Victory. 

The thriving greens

© pixabay/ jhaadityaroshan

The Victoria Memorial stands tall in the middle of 21 expansive lush green gardens that cover an area of about 64 acres. The gardens are always laced with the sweet aroma and vibrant colours of seasonal flowers along with fountains and lakes. The gardens also have a number of significant statues, the most famous out of which is the beautiful bronze statue of  Queen Victoria herself. It is a great place to enjoy a picnic-style lunch, soak in the colours of the sunset sky or to simply enjoy a breath of fresh air. Designed by Lord Redesdale and David Prain, the gardens offer a much-needed patch of green that can give you momentary respite from the bustle of an urban jungle like Kolkata. 

The spectacular museum

© Wikimedia Commons/ Vinayaraj

The Victoria Memorial is home to a whopping 29,000 artefacts out of which 4,000 are just paintings! So, it is the place to be in Kolkata, if you are an admirer of art or fascinated by history. The museum has 25 galleries, some of the more popular ones being the Royal Gallery, the Queens Hall Gallery, the Sculpture Gallery, the Arms and Armory Gallery, and, of course, the Calcutta Gallery. Visit the Queens Hall Gallery to see Queen Victoria’s personal belongings such as her chair, writing desk, and even her piano. And then make your way to the Royal Gallery to sneak a peek at the lives of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert through gorgeous, telling paintings. Here, look out for the beautiful painting that illustrates the 1838-coronation of Victoria at the Westminster Abbey. You should also visit the Durbar Hall Gallery to take a look at an array of oil paintings that depict the cultures of India and Britain. 

© Wikimedia Commons/ Kritzolina

And now comes the Calcutta Gallery of the museum that is all about the past of Kolkata. Take a walk through this gallery to see all the paintings and photographs dating back to the nascent stages of Kolkata, or Calcutta, the moniker by which the city was known back then! You will be fascinated to know how Kolkata has always been in the thick of things during the British rule in India. Through the virtual displays at this gallery, know all about Kolkata’s journey, starting from its foundation by Job Charnock in the seventeenth century till its replacement by New Delhi as the capital of British India in 1911.

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

The Victoria Memorial is also famous for housing India’s largest museum library. Here, you will get to see antiquarian books such as the Arabian Nights, Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat and also the famous works of William Shakespeare. The museum has a never-ending collection of weapons, stamps, coins, and textiles, among other things. I suggest you visit the Victoria Memorial Hall and Museum on a weekday afternoon if you want to avoid the crowd of families and city-dwellers that usually throng the place during the weekends. And there’s no better place in Kolkata than the leafy gardens of the Victoria Memorial to bathe in the winter sun! 

Taking a tour of the Victoria Memorial

© Wikimedia Commons/ SA 2.0

The Victoria Memorial remains open from 10 AM to 5 PM all week long, barring Mondays and the national holidays of India. Owing to its location in the heart of the city, the conveyance is not an issue. If you avail the Kolkata metro, get down at the Maidan station** from where the Victoria Memorial is a 10-minute walk away. You can also take a cab or a public bus from any part of the city. The most fitting way to end your tour of the historical monument is by catching a show of ‘Pride and Glory – The Story of Calcutta’, a Son et Lumiere narrating the story of Kolkata** through stunning 3D projections on the white facade of the monument. If you plan to visit anytime between March and June, you can catch the show from 7:45 PM to 8:30 PM. Alternatively, the illuminating show takes place between 7:15 PM and 8 PM during the months of October-February. To know about the special events and guided tours at the Victoria Memorial, you can visit the official website.

An ode to heritage

© Unsplash/ Martin Jernberg

The Victoria Memorial has been the staggering custodian of Kolkata for almost a century now. It attracts 2 million visitors annually and has something in store for everyone, be it in terms of art, architecture, or history! Whenever I think of Kolkata, the three things that spring to my mind are the vibrant yellow ambassador taxis, the nostalgic tramways, and the glorious Victoria Memorial. If you truly want to know the city, you must visit the Victoria Memorial that will take you on a captivating voyage of history and heritage fused with exotic art

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