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Mattancherry Palace (Cochin, India)

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Address: Cochin, Kerala, India

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      22.10.2012 14:31
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      A Kochi bargain - well worth a look

      Mattancherry Palace in Kochi was built in the mid 1500s by Portuguese colonists as a gift for a local king called Veera Kerala Varma, partly in compensation and partly in apology for the damage that had been done to a local temple. A century later it was extended and renovated by Dutch colonists and is today often referred to as the 'Dutch Palace' which is a little easier to pronounce than Mattancherry. It is situated in the Mattancherry area of Kochi, on the same peninsular as Fort Kochi which puts it firmly in the area visited by most tourists. We had actually asked to be taken to the nearby synagogue but arrived so late after our lousy and very slow lunch that the synagogue had already closed. Mattancheyry was our 'consolation' attraction but was in no way second rate.

      The palace is now managed by the Archaeological Survey of India and is open to the public from 10 am to 5 pm every day except Friday. To avoid disappointment - or at least to warn you before you get there - it's worth being aware that photography is completely banned inside the museum which is understandable but disappointing as there are some stunning exhibits inside. Whether you find the museum fascinating or unimpressive probably depends more of you and your attitude to history and art. Other reviews I've seen suggest that opinion is polarised. Some people think the place is a total waste of time and far too full of people whereas we absolutely adored it.

      As we pulled up outside we spotted a large school group just about to assemble in the queue so we joined the line as quickly as possible to avoid having to shake hands and tell our names to hundreds of small friendly people. I love Indian kids but they can turn a quick visit to a museum into a bit of a marathon of 'What's your name? Where do you come from?'

      The first big surprise was the entrance fee - a tiny sum of 5 rupees each - about 7 pence or 10 cents which seemed to be the same for everyone, both locals and foreign tourists. This is quite unusual in the more touristy areas of India although Kochi seems to be less prone to the tourist prices seen in other areas. Perhaps we have the long history of Communist leadership in the state to thank for the 'one price for all' approach.

      The palace doesn't look terribly palatial if you are expecting the Moghul style palaces of northern India. It's a two story building laid out in a square with a large inner courtyard and the rooms all run into each other and are laid out as long open corridors. In the days when it was a palace, there were different areas for different purposes such as bedrooms, a dining hall, meeting rooms and even a coronation hall although there's little left today to indicate what the rooms were originally used for.

      You'll need to be willing to sharpen your elbows and fight for a good view of the fantastic historic murals in this museum as it tends to get over-run with school parties and we were told that it also gets a lot of cruise ship groups. The entrance is up a steep set of stone steps which is worth keeping in mind for anyone with mobility issues as there was no sign of any alternative entrance.

      The stars of the museum are the painted murals which illustrate stories from the Ramayana over an area of more than 300 square meters. They are absolutely stunning and the main reason for the ban on photography. The only places I've seen similar quality murals are in Tipu Sultan's palace in Srirangapatanam, near Mysore, and in the Spice Route restaurant of the Imperial Hotel in Delhi (which was decorated by Keralan mural painters). If you know some of the stories from the Ramayana they will no doubt make more sense but we stretched a tiny bit of knowledge a long way by reading the excellent labels which explained what was shown in the pictures.

      Mattancherry Palace is not just about the murals - although they are the main draw. We also saw fascinating portraits of historic local leaders and an excellent exhibition about the matrilineal inheritance system practiced in Kerala - which illustrated old fashioned girl power in action! We also enjoyed some of the relics from the days when the palace was used including old purdah carriages, weapons, stamps and coins.

      Most of the action is on the upper floor but if you're willing to risk a rather narrow and steep staircase there are more murals and more displays downstairs. My husband took one look at the staircase and decided to stay upstairs. I waited ages for a large group of locals to struggle up the stairs before I was able to get down.

      I enjoyed the palace a lot but would recommend that if you are considering a visit, take care to time your visit in such a way that you don't miss the very restricted opening hours at the nearby synagogue. Most museums in India close on Mondays rather than Friday which is the day when Mattancherry is closed. I can only assume that the museum has aligned its day off with the synagogue which is also closed to tourists on Friday.


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      Museum with spectacular murals in an old Palance in Kochi, Kerala

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