I have realized that architecture with a fancy tale fascinates me. Abandoned houses, Castles and spooky stories gets all my attention even if I'm equally scared of the surrounding. Such place for me, was Richmond Castle. I wanted to go there for many years, but never got the time. Of course we planned to visit the Richmond Castle while we were at Eden Resort in Beruwala, but the evening nap mattered more for us and we couldn't do it. Finally, when plans were happening to spend a weekend at Hikka Tranz, we squeezed in the trip to the route.
Location & Entrance
The location is in Kalutara, and it isn't hard to find with the help of Google Maps. Of course the Mudliyar has done a great job with putting the name right at the entrance in Italian glass chips (We Think), and a oh-so-huge entrance to his property. Unless you are blind, you can't miss the entrance when you pass the road.
From entrance, you can buy the tickets, priced 30/= per local visitor. The ticket needs to be produced again so be sure to keep it with you when you start the tour. From the entrance itself you realize how wealthy this person was. It takes about 1 kilometer from the entrance to the car park, and then another 0.5 Km probably to walk to the entrance of the house. Well, forget about that, just look at the area from google! The land is huge!
The entire house is not open for viewing, as a part of it is now used as a shelter for orphan kids. Therefore, you have to use a side entrance, to get acknowledged by the staff at the premises. Upon arrival, the ticket needs to be produced and the tour begins. It typically starts with an introduction to the life of Mudaliyar, his family background, the purpose of building a house of this capacity. For someone like me, who read most of it on the internet, hearing it for the second time allowed me to understand what I'm looking at or map the history to the piece of architecture that was being explained. All I knew before this trip was that there was a rich Mudaliyar, who had a fancy wedding, almost like a Carnival, and his childless marriage ended in a divorce. We are about to find more about the story.
I might have missed bits and pieces from the entire description, but here is the story in high level. The Mudliyar, named "Padikara Mudali Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena" is the creator of this majestic mansion which is built in a land of 42 acres. He was inherently rich, the son of a wealthy planter during the days when British ruled the country. He had studied in Britain while having close associations with Princes (of that time) of England and also a Maharaja of Ramnad in India.
The fascination to build this mansion began from the moment he saw the palace of his friend, the Maharaja. As a friendly request, the Mudliyar has asked for the blueprint of the palace, hoping to build a similar abode for himself. The Maharaja has taken it as a joke, and has expressed his rejection with a snarky remark as "It is impossible for you to build a palace as such". Taking that as a challenge, the Mudaliyar planned for all necessities for his masterpiece. Italian stained glass, British Bathroom fittings, and all other needs such as flooring, roofing tiles, ships of timber, everything was sourced from all over the world.
The Mudaliyar moved in to the new castle after his marriage to Clarice Matilda Maude Suriyabandara. The wedding was a grand affair in the country itself. Invitees included royal family members of Britain, high ranked officials of the country and out of the country, and of course the Maharaja who refused to give his plan. There is a fun photo displayed in the Castle, where the Maharaja is staring at the Richmond Castle in disbelief. (Ha! serves him right for not sharing the plan.) He apparently realized and commented that the Richmond Castle was superior than his palace.
Even though the couple was blessed with every happiness in the world, there was one thing even their entire wealth couldn't buy them. Children of their own. For the absence of kids, the Mudaliyar has built many statues of infants in his garden, that can be viewed from the master bed room balcony. According to the tale, the Mudilyar was miserable for this very reason and their marriage led to an unfortunate divorce after 40 something years of being together. After the divorce happened, he has built more statues in the garden, with ladies facing backwards or downwards while the male kids were facing towards the mansion. The story ends with the Mudaliyar giving away all his wealth to a Public Trustee. His last few years were spent at number 77 of the Queen's Hotel - Kandy. As for the Castle, his last wish was to allow the property to be used for the benefit of "male" orphan children, which is exactly how it is used as of now.
Before I go in to detail, I should tell that it is unimaginable how wealthy he may have been, to build a house as such. Seeing those bathroom fittings & the stained glass windows, you feel that they were living in the future back in those days. The Castle is an architectural fusion, that blends in designs from all over the world. Italian, Indian, Greek, Roman-Dutch styling and more of rich local designs, this place is Disneyland for architecture buffs.
We first started our tour with an explanation of life size paintings of the Mudaliyar and his parents. Oil painted, as per the description, it was done in a way to let the viewers feel that the Mudaliyar is staring at you, from any direction that you look at the picture.
The bathroom walls are done with decorative tiles, which you still wouldn't find anywhere in the land. The bathroom fittings are very much similar to what we have now, which is surprising as this mansion was built ages ago. There were about 3 bathrooms built in corners of the upper floor, and some of them had their fittings removed.
The privacy of the bedrooms were guaranteed by a unique way of building the walls, to have a hollow inside. The air filled in between the walls makes it hard for anyone to eavesdrop. Also, the Italian window glasses with designs, were glass enough to bring light to the room but was green on the outside, blocking any view, or even a shadow inside from the room.
From the master bedroom, you can go to the balcony, which gives a full view of the garden in front of the castle. The statues of infants, and the ladies and of course the beautiful fountain can be seen before his acres of property. On the side of the room, there is another smaller balcony, which had higher walls (childproof we hear, as they were optimistic about the children department). From there, you get to view Sripadha as well, if the sky was clear enough for the day.
Downstairs, you get the flooring made of exquisite marble, which probably is the smoothest ever flooring. Next to it, is the iconic stairway made out of timber, and also is magical enough to stand strong without any supportive pillars from the ground. The stairway is closed for visitors, probably to protect it from damage.
What would this mansion be if not for a private theater. There is a separate balcony for the couple to enjoy the musical acts that took place, and the balcony is accessible through a spiral staircase imported from India as I remember. In a time when air conditioners were not heard of, the castle was supplied with natural air conditioning through pipes directed to the theater, by the winds from the river next to the estate. At present, the theater stinks a bit maybe because of the poor maintenance of the wooden floor.
The Castle, Today.
As mentioned earlier, for the Mudaliyar's last wish, the property is now used as an orphan shelter. Also it is being maintained by the Public trust that the castle was assigned to. The castle is not maintained at it's best, but it still is attractive. The guide does a really great job, with detailed explanations of the Mudaliyar's life, the architecture and know-how's of the property. The estate now serves as a good option for a family outing or an educational tour for those who love buildings and history.