THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: There is little left to proclaim the regal legacy of the ruined structure fronting the Shanghumughom beach. The century-old South Palace is today a shadow of its original glory. Stripped to the core, the dilapidated building is on its last legs, awaiting salvation as the City Corporation toys with a restoration project.
The Corporation’s annual budget for the year 2009-2010 has earmarked Rs.50 lakh to convert the building into a museum to showcase the city’s rich history.
Ever since it was retrieved from a lessee in 1997 after a protracted legal battle, the local body has launched several attempts to renovate the ravaged structure. The first plan was to set up a zonal office in the building to coordinate the activities of the local body in the coastal wards. In 1999, the Corporation budget proposed a project to convert the palace into a tourist-cum-commercial centre. The next year, the project was revised to include a history museum and a children’s palace. The allocation was then enhanced to Rs.1 crore.
With both projects failing to take off, the Corporation mooted yet another project to set up a historical museum intended to provide a glimpse into the lives of the rulers of the erstwhile Travancore state as well as that of prominent Malayalis who have excelled in various fields. For various reasons, that proposal also fell by the wayside.
The residence of the Senior Regent of Travancore, the South Palace (Thekkekottaram), was constructed in the colonial style with a nalukettu, courtyard and exquisite wood carvings. The building was given on lease to a private party who operated a bar hotel for many years.
During the lease period, a number of unauthorised structures were constructed on the premises.
Corporation officials who arrived to take possession of the palace after the eviction of the lessee found the building ravaged. Many of the carved teak doors, window panes, ornamental lamps and wooden frames were missing. All the electrical fittings were taken away and in some rooms even the wires were ripped off. The exquisite carvings on the granite steps and the conch insignia of the Travancore royal family in bold relief on the north wall were the only remnants. The damage was assessed at Rs.30 lakh.
Archaeology Department officials say that the building had not suffered structural damage despite years of neglect and continuous exposure to the salty sea wind.
“The entire wooden ceiling and the doors and windows have either succumbed to the elements or been vandalised. Thanks to the quality of materials and the workmanship, the walls and inner structures like the staircase are still intact after more than a century. However, the building will require extensive repairs to restore it to its original condition,” an official said.
Heritage lovers point out that the building is in danger of total disintegration unless something is done soon. A major part of the renovation involves replacing the broken roof and ‘stitching’ the damaged walls using traditional lime plaster.
Civic officials point out that restoration of the building is one thing, maintaining it as a heritage structure is a more daunting task. While the renovation can be done on a one-time investment, the old building will require frequent repairs and maintenance.
Under the Kerala Ancient Monuments and Remains Act, 1968, the Archaeology Department can declare a 100-year-old building as a protected monument and prevent its demolition. But the department often shies away from doing so, for the simple reason that in such a case, it is shouldered with the responsibility of preserving the structure.
Though more than 100 years old, the palace has not been included in the list of heritage monuments identified by the Art and Heritage Commission.