Decorated with balconies and towers and crowned with several cupolas, the imposing City Palace of Udaipur with an 801 feet (244 m) long and 199 feet (30.4 m) high façade towering over Lake Pichola is often esteemed as the largest palace complex in the India state of Rajasthan. Built over a period of around 400 years, it is the epitome of a colossal citadel reflecting a blend of Rajasthani, Mughal, Medieval, European and Oriental architecture. Encircled by fortifications and equipped with is a marvelous assortment of courtyards, pavilions, terraces, corridors, rooms, and hanging gardens, the palace wholly built of granite and marble.
Much before the sacking of Chittorgarh by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, Maharana Udai Singh II of Sisodia Rajput family, who inherited the Mewar kingdom in 1537, decided to shift the capital from Chittorgarh to near the Lake Pichola as the location was well protected on all sides by forests, lakes and the Aravalli hills and less vulnerable than Chittorgarh. Legend says, in one of his hunting expeditions, Udai Singh met a holy man meditating on the hill near Lake Pichola, who advised him to establish his capital on the spot.
Nevertheless, initiated by Maharana Udai Singh II, the construction of the palace began in 1553, concurrently with the establishment of the Udaipur City. The process of construction was continued by his successors, and gradually it became a conglomeration of structures, including 11 separate smaller palaces. For more than a period of 400 years, the Maharanas lived and controlled their kingdom from the City Palace to make the palace complex an important historic landmark of the country. Nestled within the Aravalli mountain range and overlooking the Lake Palace, the Monsoon Palace, Jag Mandir, and Jagdish Temple, the City Palace offers a breath-taking panoramic view of the city of Udaipur and its surroundings.
After the death of Udai Singh in 1572, his son Maharana Pratap Singh took the reins of power at Udaipur, but following his defeat by the Mughal Emperor Akbar at the battle of Haldighati in 1576, he spent most of his life in the hills and forests of Mewar. Much later, by 1761, the Mewar was under the continuous threat of the increasing invasions by the Marathas, and by 1818, Maharana Bhim Singh signed a treaty with the British for protection against the others. After the Independence of India in 1947, the Kingdom of Mewar, along with other princely states of Rajasthan, merged with India in 1949.
Subsequently, although the Kings of Mewar lost their titles and special royal privileges, they retained the ownership of the City Palace and converted parts of the palace complex into a heritage hotel.
Starting from 1559 onwards, the huge complex of the City Palace in Udaipur was built over a long period by 22 generations of Sisodia Rajputs. While the project was initiated by Maharana Udai Singh, his succeeding Maharanas added several palaces and structures to the complex, retaining the uniformity of design. While the complex is equipped with several gates, known as Pols, it can be accessed through the Badi Pol at the northern end and the Sheetla Mata Gate to the south.
However, the Bara Pol or the Great Gate leads to Tripolia, a triple arched gate. Located between these two gates, there are eight marble arches or Toranas, where Kings used to weigh themselves with gold and silver, which were consequently distributed among the locals. The Tripolia gate leads to a big courtyard, Manek Chowk, where one can find a large tiger-catching cage and a smaller one for leopards. The elephant fights were staged in the courtyard of the Hathi Pol, or the Elephant Gate.
The eleven palaces built within the complex of the City Palace are interlinked through several chowks or quadrangles with zigzag corridors. Among those chowks, the Mor Chowk or Peacock square is integral to the inner courts of the palace. Elaborately designed with three peacocks, representing the three seasons of summer, winter, and monsoon, it is modeled in high relief and faced with coloured glass mosaic. It is said that 5000 pieces of glass were used to craft the peacocks that brilliantly shine in green, gold, and blue colours.
Complete with numerous balconies, towers, and cupolas exhibiting exquisite mirror-work, marble work, murals, wall paintings, silver-work, inlay-work, and leftover of colored glass, the interiors of the palaces, built inside the complex of the City Palace are simply amazing. The Amar Vilas, the highest point of the City Palace, was built in the Mughal style as a pleasure pavilion and has wonderful hanging gardens decorated with fountains, towers, and terraces. It provides entry to the Badi Mahal or the Great Palace, also known as Garden Palace, which is the central palace situated on an 80 feet (27 m) high natural rock formation. It has a swimming pool, which was once used during the celebration of Holi or the Colour festival. Miniature paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries are displayed in one of its adjoining halls. While Bhim Vilas has a gallery of a collection of miniature paintings depicting different episodes of Radha-Krishna, Chini Chitrasala depicts Chinese and Dutch ornamental tiles, and Choti Chitrasala, built in the early 19th century, displays pictures of peacocks. Dilkush Mahal or Palace of Joy is known for the murals and wall paintings, and the Rang Bhawan is the palace where the royal treasure was held.
Apart from that, the Krishna Vilas is known for the miniature paintings, displaying the royal processions, festivals, and games of the Maharanas, Moti Mahal or Pearl Palace is celebrated for its lavish décor, while constructed in 1716 by Maharana Pratap Singh for his beloved wife Maharani Ajabde, Sheesh Mahal or the Palace of mirrors is known for its breathtaking mirror work. The luxuriant Durbar hall decorated with gleaming chandeliers was built in 1919 during the rule of Maharana Fateh Singh, and its gallery was used by the royal ladies to observe the Durbar proceedings.
Equipped with a crystal gallery, consisting of crystal chairs, dressing tables, sofas, tables, chairs and beds, crockery, and table fountains, Fateprakash Palace has been converted into a luxury hotel, while a part of the City Palace and the Zenana Mahal has been transformed into a museum 1974. Among many other exhibits, the museum also showcases the range of the artillery of Rana Pratap Singh, including a display of his mammoth, formidable armour of 25 kilograms