La Martiniere College: One of Lucknow's best kept secrets

By 14:30 Saturday 29 September 2018 , ,

My best friend and I always wanted to do a weekend trip to Lucknow, much to people's surprise, only so that we could appreciate its wonderful architecture. We were told that as Delhiites who've grown up around so many Mughal marvels, we might find Lucknow a bit underwhelming. This wasn't the case at all.

The famous ones, Rumi Darwaza and Bara Imambara lived up to their hype but it was La Martiniere College that truly won me over. One of the oldest buildings in Lucknow {1845}, the college has been an intrinsic part of Lucknow's legacy and has even won the Royal Battle Honours for the contribution of its students in the mutiny of 1857. The two La Martiniere schools in Lucknow (Girls and Boys) are part of the franchise of institutions around the world founded by the French adventurer Major General Claude Martin. There are two more La Martiniere colleges in Kolkata and three in Lyon, Claude's birthplace in France. The central building of the complex, Constantia was built in 1785 as his country residence but was completed in 1802, two years after his death.

Martin acquired his fortune while serving Asaf-ud-Daula, the nawab of Awadh, and was reputedly the richest Frenchman in India. However, he never married and had no heir, and stated in his will that the school in Lucknow should be established at Constantia and that the house should be kept as a "school or College for learning young men the English language and Christian religion if they found themselves inclined". He also stated that he wants his 'body be salted, put in spirits or embalmed', and placed in a lead coffin in a vault beneath the house.Thus Constantia became both a school and a mausoleum and the largest European funerary monument in India. This is probably why William Dalrymple has described it as "The East India Company's answer to the Taj Mahal".

The architectural style was something I'd never seen before. I was quite spellbound and had little comparisons to make. Every part of the building seemed fantastical and larger than life, adorned with intricate European motifs. I could see some restoration work going on and was pretty impressed how well the entire campus was maintained. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking:

Just a couple of things to note, most parts of the building are open for you but entry can get difficult on weekends. We visited on a Saturday around 11am and had to wait for the clearance from the internal office as they don't prefer outsider entries on weekends. Even on weekdays, call them and check the timings in advance as there aren't any fixed visiting hours, and from my understanding entry is prohibited while the classes are on.

Feel free to ask any other questions in the comments!

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