Lucknow the elegant capital city of the state of Uttar Pradesh lies on the banks of the river Gomti which divides the city into two unequal halves, the southern half being larger than the northern. The city symbolizes the combined Hindu-Muslim culture of the country and has become synonymous with adab or etiquette, which is as inherent a part of the people of Lucknow as is their charm and refinement.
Lucknow played an important role during the First war of Independence in 1857 under the leadership of Begum Hazrat Mehal. Though the struggle for independence failed that time, Lucknow continued to be a major center of activity for the freedom fighters until the country finally gained independence in 1947.
The credit for making modern Lucknow the way it is today goes to the Nawabs of Avadh who, apart from constructing some magnificent monuments, left behind a tradition of courtesy, hospitality and charm in a city, where polite conversion and an appreciation of all things beautiful is a way of life. This is reflected in the delicate and intricate embroidery of “Chikan” and “Zari” work, the beautifully designed gold and silver jewellery, the sweet-smelling perfumes or “itr” and the metal crafts that the city is famous for.
This gracious city is an experience all by itself , not to be compared with any other city in India.
1. BARA IMAMBARA
Also known as Asfi Imambara, this magnificent building was constructed by Nawab Asif-ud-Daula in 1784 as a part of a famine relief programme which enabled the Nawab to provide both food and employment to his subjects. The Imambara is particularly noted for its massive central hall which is 50m long, 16m wide, 15m high and in all probability the largest vaulted gallery in the world. No wood or iron was used in the construction of the roof of this architectural marvel which stands without the support of any beams or pillars. There are several underground passages beneath the hall but they have now been blocked.
Outside the hall is a staircase that leads to the BHULBHULAIYA, a very complex labyrinth where it is advisable to enter only if led by a guide.
Other places of interest within the Imambara complex include a large old well called Baoli and a grand mosque flanked by two minarets.
2. RUMI DARWAZA-
This huge 18m high gate built by Asif-ud-Daula lies to the west of the Bara Imambara and is the replica of a gate in the Turkish city of Istanbul. In fact, the gate gets its name from this very city which was known to the Muslims as Rumi (connected to Rome) when it was the capital of the eastern Roman Empire. The Rumi Darwaza continues to be one of the finest examples of Avadhi architecture.
3. CHOTHA IMAMBARA-
The Chhota Imambara, also known as the Hussainabad Imambara is situated beyond the Rumi Darwaza and is yet another of Lucknow’s famous monuments. This arresting building was constructed by Muhammad Ali Shah between 1829 and 1837 as a mausoleum for himself. In the courtyard of the Imambara is a raised rectangular tank with a replica of the Taj-Mahal on either side. Entombed here are the bodies of Ali Shah’s daughter and son in law.
Numerous domes, turrets and minarets dominate the main building of the Imambara. Inscribed on the arcade outside are Arabic verses from the Quran. The tombs of Muhammad Ali Shah and his mother lie inside a room which is decorated with mirrors, chandeliers, gilt paper and zari.
There is a four-storey watchtower opposite the Imambara. This structure is called Satkhanda which literaly means seven-storey tower. However, when Ali Shah died in 1840, construction was abandoned and the monument remains incomplete.
4. JAMA MASJID-
This beautiful three domed mosque lies to the west of the Chotha Imambara. Construction was begun by Muhammad Ali Shah in 1840 and completed after his death by his wife. Renovation work was undertaken in 1901 under the auspices Sir McDonald, the Governor of Avadh.
5. CLOCK TOWER-
Dominating the skyline around the Imambara is the tallest clock tower in India which stands 67m high. it was constructed during the time of Nawab nasir-ud-din-Haider between 1880 and 1887 at the cost of about one hundred and twenty thousand rupees.
6. PICTURE GALLERY-
Opposite the Hussainabad tank is yet another of Ali Shah’s constructions which today houses the Picture Gallery. This red coloured, double-storeyed building was once a Baradari or summer house and now has several 19th-century portraits of the various Nawabs of Avadh.
7. LAKSHMAN TILA-
This high mound lying to the north of the Imambara complex is the original site of the town which we now know as Lucknow city. The land is believed to have been gifted to Lakshman by his brother Lord Rama. The Alamgiri or Aurangzeb mosque now stands on the Tila. The Subedar of Avadh, Sultan Ali, built the triple-domed structure which is also known as the Tile Wali Masjid.
8. SHAHNAJAF IMAMBARA-
The Shahnajaf Imambara or the Najaf-e-Ashraf has the tombs of King ghazi-ud-Din haider and his wives. Situated to the west of Sikander Bagh, this Imambara which has a huge dome gets its name from a town called Shahnajaf in Iraq where there is a tomb of the famous Muslim Leader, Haider Ali. During the First War of Independence in 1857, this Imambara was a stronghold of the Indian soldiers and witnessed fierce fighting between the Indian and British forces.
9. LA MARTINIERE-
This unusual building which is now a school was constructed by a French Major General. Claude Martin was taken prisoner of war by the British at Pondicherry in 1761 after which he joined the army of the East India Company and was given the responsibility of forming an European regiment which was to be stationed in Mysore. In 1776, Martin befriended the Nawab of Avadh and soon made a fortune, a substantial amount of which he poured into building himself a home of palatial proportions which he named Constantia.
The building was designed by Martin himself, who was by no means an expert on architecture and it shows Gothic and Corinthian styles combine with Indian and Mughal styles to give La Martiniere its strange look. Unfortunately, Martin died, before his dream house was constructed but it was his wish that the building is used as a school.
The La Martiniere school has been functioning since 1840 and is run like a British private school. in the basement is the tomb of its builder, Claude Martin.
10. CHATTAR MANZIL-
This residential palace built by Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider gets his name from the gilt umbrella that tops its dome. Today , the Central Drug Research Institute of India has its offices in the graceful building which is fine blend of European and Muslim architecture.