Palaces of Nizami Hyderabad

Sam Dalrymple

Until 1947, the great tourist cities of Rajasthan were a side show for heritage lovers. Strange as it sounds today, the place that everyone flocked to was Hyderabad.

Under the rule of the Asaf Jahi Nizams, Hyderabad was transformed into a playground for the Deccan’s aristocracy. Palaces bloomed on hilltops, on lakes and overlooking the city’s racecourse.

The Nizams had long been Britain’s closest allies in the subcontinent, and although earlier palaces like Chowmahalla exuded Mughal and Persian aesthetics, the Nizam’s court gradually began to patronise European architectural styles as well.

The British Residency was a perfect Palladian villa while Asman Garh was built as a mock Norman Castle.

The Falaknuma Palace, meanwhile, was in an entirely new hybrid genre of its own, with a Victorian facade, Scots Baronial interiors, and ceilings of baroque islamicate muqarnas.

Salar Jung, one of the greatest art collectors in Indian history, embellished his teak baradaris with rare Chinese porcelains, Italian marbles and a vast collection of Mughlai miniature paintings that made many contemporary collections in Europe look provincial by comparison.

But this world of excess could not last forever. “It was like living in France on the eve of the revolution,” recalled Iris Portal, a British writer, some years later. “All the power was in the hands of the Muslim nobility. They spent money like water… but they could be very charming and sophisticated as well… You couldn’t help feeling that the whole great baroque structure could come crashing down at any minute.”

That is precisely what happened. In the wake of Hyderabad’s annexation to India, more than 90% of the city’s palaces were sold off and pulled down – including Salar Jung’s magnificent mansion.

In the last two decades, however, a few of the city’s several thousand palaces have been saved from destruction and restored, proving a fascinating glimpse into the vanishing world of the Nizams.

The Deccan Heritage Foundation x Sam Dalrymple – A series that uncovers the history of Hyderabad through the eyes of Historian Sam Dalrymple. This article originally appeared on the Deccan Heritage Foundation Instagram page.

More from the series