It is believed that the hillock of Falaknuma was initially Amir-e-Paigah Sir Vicar-Ul-Umara’s father, H.E. Amir-e-Kabir III’s hunting lodge for decades. This site was earlier home to the Koh-i-toor Palace, a summer palace of the Qutub Shahi rulers, which fell apart during the early 18th century. After Sir Vicar returned from Europe, he revisited his hill retreat on March 3, 1884, and laid the foundation stone of the Falaknuma Palace, which covered an area of 9,39,712 square metres. It took nine years for the construction and furnishing of the Palace. However, it is said that Sir Vicar moved into the Gol Bangla in January 1891 to monitor the finer aspects and final touches closely. The first banquet at Falaknuma was hosted on December 17, 1892, by H.E. Nawab Sir Vicar-Ul-Umara in the honour of Lord Lansdowne (Viceroy of India) and Lady Lansdowne. They had been touring Hyderabad and the Deccan at the time. Years later, during the spring of 1897, H.H The VIth Nizam, Nawab Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Bahadur visited the Falaknuma to see his sister, Princess Jahandaarunnisa Begum Sahiba - Lady Vicar-Ul-Umara. When the Nizam entered the palace to attend a banquet held in his honour, His Highness was amazed by its absolute magnificence and decided to stay back for a day, which eventually got extended to a month.
The Royal guest had fallen in love with this beautiful creation, and Sir Vicar requested his beloved ruler, who was also his nephew and brother-in-law, to accept this fairytale palace as Nazar (an offering). However, it is said that the generous Nizam turned down the request of accepting the entire Palace as an offering. Hence, an agreement was reached wherein an amount was paid to Sir Vicar, who had started his next dream project while living in Falaknuma: a conglomerate of seven beautiful palaces in different architectural styles and a beautiful Spanish Mosque of Moorish architecture and elements that he had admired during his visit to the Grand Mosque of Cordoba in Spain; at his 1,689 acres estate of Begumpet.
This splendid Palace of H.E.H The VIIIth Nizam comprises of four palaces - The Mardana Mahal, The Gol Bangla (sculpted like the sting of the scorpion), The Zanana Mahal and The Coronation Palace. Following its conversion into a 5-star luxury palace hotel a decade ago, Taj Falaknuma Palace, undoubtedly considered as one of the finest palace hotels in the world, encompasses 60 elegant rooms and luxurious suites, ensuring the once-in-a-lifetime experience for its guests.
The palace was designed by a European Architect William Ward Marrett, who built it in the shape of a scorpion. This was done in recognition of the zodiac sign of Nawab Sultan-Ul-Mulk, Amir-e-Paigah (the eldest son of Sir Vicar) who was born on November 3 1874, a birth sign he coincidently shared with the architect himself. The palace, an extensive and handsome structure, stands on a terrace and in front of the building. This terrace forms a garden which is artistically laid out in English style. The façade of the palace is in a Grecian style. The interior is reached by a double flight of steps which lead to the deep verandah.
The beautiful marble vestibule, which always seems delightfully cool on the hottest day, is fitted with marble seats surrounding an exquisite fountain. The staircase leading to the upper floor is of marble, with beautifully carved balustrades, supporting at intervals, superb marble figures with candelabra. On the walls are excellent oil paintings of His Highness The Nizam VI, Shams-Ul-Umara II, Shams-Ul-Umara III (Grandfather and father of Sir Vicar-Ul-Umara), Sir Salar Jung I, Sultan-Ul-Mulk (Eldest son of Sir Vicar who succeeded him as Amir-e-Paigah), Raja Narender Bahadur and of course, one of Sir Vicar himself. The state reception room/drawing room was originally most beautifully decorated after the exquisite style of Louis XIV. White crystal Osler chandeliers were commissioned from England for the Mardana Mahal, while turquoise blue, red and green Venetian and Istanbul chandeliers for the Zanana Mahal andGol Bangla. Furniture, fixtures and artefacts were imported from France, England, Germany and Italy and shiploads of marble from Italy.
During construction of the palace, the finest materials and craftsmen from England, France, Spain, Italy and different parts of India were called in to work on various features. Hence, Falaknuma Palace includes European, Indian and Mughal elements of design within its enormous space.
The staircase area has many gorgeous sculpted masterpieces. The two most scintillating pieces in this area are the wooden cabinet which houses a curious mechanical orchestra, and a French-styled clock with ornate gilded wooden frames. Vases from all over the world dominate the décor of this place. These vases are Oriental and only add to the charm and elegance of the palace.
The top floor of the grand Mardana Palace harbours the drawing-room, the ballroom and the men’s saloon. The men’s salon décor is extremely French in style. Amongst the gorgeous drapes and furnishings, a billiard table and a grand hookah are some of the most striking objects of this room. This open space, which includes several different seating arrangements, is adjacent to a lavish banquet hall. A sprawling dining table that can easily accommodate 100 diners dazzles its onlookers with its grandeur, magnificence, mysterious ambience and acoustic features.
The floor here has square parquet panels in interlocking designs, while the walls have ornate gilded framed mirrors on them for dancers to admire and correct their postures while performing. The painted panels on the walls above illustrate flowers, books and European musical instruments. The grand Rococo Revival styled sofas, chairs and small tables are the main attention grabbers in this space.
For most of its existence, Falaknuma from the outside has been light blue or bluish-grey following the literal meaning of its name ‘Falak-numa’ – ‘Like the sky’ or ‘Mirror of the sky’.
– Dr Mohammed Faraaz Khan