Victoria Memorial is one of the famous and beautiful monuments of Kolkata. It was built between 1906 and 1921 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 25-year reign in India. After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British government gathered the reins of control of the country directly, and in 1876 the British parliament made Victoria the Empress of India. Her reign ended with her death in 1901.
The Victoria Memorial is possibly the most awesome reminder of the Raj to be found in India. This huge white-marble museum, made from Makrana marbles from Rajasthan, is filled with a vast collection of remnants from the period of British Empire rule in India. The forms in the museum like the great dome, clustered with four subsidiary, octagonal domed chattris, the high portals, the terrace and the domed corner towers speak of a splendid richness in architecture. The Memorial is situated on 64 acres of land with the building covering 338 ft by 228 ft.
Lord Curzon, who was then the Viceroy of India, placed the question of setting up a ‘stately’ memorial for Queen Victoria, on her death in January 1901 to the public. The princes and people of India responded generously to his appeal for funds and Lord Curzon derived the total cost of construction of this monument amounting to one crore, five lakhs of rupees (Rs.1,05,00,000) from their voluntary subscriptions. The Prince of Wales, King George V, laid the foundation stone on January 4, 1906 and it was formally opened to the public in 1921.
The Victoria Memorial is a landmark in the history of Indian architecture and the credit for that justly goes to Lord Curzon who chose persons like Sir William Emerson, President of the British Institute of Architects, to design and plan the building and entrust the construction work to the very famous Messrs. Martin & Co. of Calcutta.
This grandiloquent structure presently houses a museum of British India memorabilia like a large collection of oil paintings and water colours by famous European artists like Charles D’oyly, Johann Zoffany, William Hadges, William Simpson, Tilly Kettle, Thomas Hickey, Bultzar Solvyns, Thomas Hickey, Emily Eden and others. Besides these, the Memorial also houses the largest collection in the world of the paintings by the Daniells.
The Royal Gallery is a storehouse of oil paintings of Queen Victoria receiving the sacrament at her coronation in the Westminster Abbey in June 1838; her marriage with Prince Albert (1840), the christening of the Prince of Wales, the marriage of the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) with Princess Alexandra and others.
The Memorial’s grandeur at a height of 200 feet (184 ft up to the base of the figure of Victory, which is again 16 ft high) is accentuated by the serenity that engulfs you in its corridors. The groups of figures above the north porch represent Motherhood, Prudence and Learning. Surrounding the main dome are figures of Art, Architecture, Justice, Charity etc.
The vastness and splendour of Victoria Memorial can be comprehended from the fact that it has been divided into different divisions like the garden, library and others for maintenance and also houses a host of valuable articles like the dagger of Tipu Sultan, a cannon used in the battle of Plassey, rare books that date back to 1870, valuable manuscripts like the Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazal, rare postage stamps and Western paintings to entice the visitors to this awesome monument.