This 19th-century neo-classical mansion tucked away within the serpentine lanes of north Kolkata is emblematic of the churn of modernity and Renaissance that left Bengal forever changed. The Marble Palace melds an eastern ethos with Western aesthetics. The man who conceived the space—the illustrious Rajendra Mallick—brought his love for art, ornithology and botany while building this structure. The end result—a wildly beautiful and curious building that is a museum, residence, zoo rolled into one—enough to draw in the curious traveller.
Walking in through the gates of the Marble Palace from Muktaram Babu Street where it is located is like portalling back to another era. An era when Kolkata was the city of palaces and where a grand mansion with Corinthian columns, manicured gardens complete with fountains, a menagerie and a wonderful repository of art built by a Bengali philanthropist and merchant was not all that out of the ordinary.
The western architecture is fused with traditional Bengali elements like the grand thakur dalan or central courtyard for worship as well as several prayer rooms and residential quarters.
Built by Raja Rajendra Mullick, who was a prominent trader, art lover and philanthropist whose palace is an ode to marble—there are supposed to be nearly 100 kinds of marble ranging across fine replicas of Greco-Roman sculptures, elegant flooring, pillars and bas reliefs.
The mansion’s collection straddles everything from replicas of Italian Renaissance masters to period furniture and curious collectibles including a teak statue of Queen Victoria
And then there is the zoo. Known as Nilmani Niketan after Mullick’s father, it is believed to be the first zoo in India that was opened for public viewing. An interesting facet of the zoo is that it was meant to showcase and protect herbivorous species after the eating habits of the owners. From porcupines to red-butt baboons, barking deer, hyacinth macaws, hornbills, magpies and more, there is much to stop by and admire. The zoo remains the only private zoo in India.
While this is still a private residence, there are tours available and the caretakers of the property will guide you around, sharing history and information about the home, its history, its owners and the collection it houses.