Hyderabad is a city with a history that reads like a love story and a past that sounds like a fairy tale. The rule of the Nizams fill pages and pages of this history with a legendary patronage of arts, architecture and science. Testimony to this sensitivity are the many exquisite monuments of Hyderabad. One monument that in its intrinsic grandeur still exudes the power of yore is the Chowmahalla Palace. (Chow means four. And Mahal means Palace. Chow-Mahalla therefore means four palaces).
While Nizam Salabhat Jung is credited with initiating the construction of the palace complex in 1750, it was Nizam Afzar-ud-Dawla Bahadur who ensured that it was completed between 1857 and 1869. Extending from the Laad Bazaar on the north to the Aspan Chowk Road on the south, the palace originally covered 45 acres but regretably only 12 acres remain..
The Chowmahalla complex which is a replica of the Shah’s Palace in Teheran, Iran today consists of two courtyards with elegant palaces, the grand Khilwat (the Durbar Hall), fountains and gardens. The oldest part of the complex currently under restoration, comprises of the four palaces Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal. Of these the Aftab Mahal is the grandest of them all and is a two storied building with a European façade of Corinthian columns and a parapet without pediment.
The northern courtyard has been painstakingly restored and is now open to the public. The highlights of this area are the Bara Imam – a long corridor of rooms on the east side that once housed the administrative wing. And the Shishe-Alat or quite literally, the shishe or mirror image which was once used as guest rooms for officials accompanying visiting dignitaries.
The Clock Tower is another impressive construction. It houses what is affectionately called the Khilwat Clock which has been ticking away ever since the Palace was built. The Council Hall which housed a rare collection of manuscripts and priceless books is where the Nizam often met important officials. Today it is the venue for temporary exhibitions from the treasures of the Chowmahalla Palace Collection that offer you a glimpse of a bygone era.
Named after the sixth Nizam’s mother, Roshan Bangla is another exquisite part of this courtyard. The centerpiece, indeed the pièce de résistance, is the Khilwat, the grand Durbar Hall. With its Mughal domes and arches and a distinct Persian influence reflected in the ornate stucco work, this is the heart of the Chowmahalla Palace. It is held in high esteem by the people of Hyderabad as it was the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty.
The grand pillared Durbar Hall has a pure marble platform on which the Takht-e-Nishan or the royal seat was laid. The 19 recently reinstalled chandeliers made of spectacular Belgian crystal recreate the lost splendor of this regal hall. Chowmahalla, which in its heydays had more than 7000 attendants, has been compared to the ‘Enchanted Gardens of the Arabian Nights’. Chowmahalla, where the Nizams held their durbar and other religious and symbolic ceremonies also hosted popular banquets in honour of their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales in February 1906.