La Martiniere College – An offbeat attraction of Lucknow

posted in: Asia, Culture, Heritage, India, Uttar Pradesh | 10

While the Bara Imambara, the Residency and Chota Imambara is there on almost every visitor’s list of attractions in Lucknow, it is time to add a few offbeat places to this list. Last week I shared my heritage walk of Kaiserbagh which I am sure you have already included to your itinerary. This week, you need to add La Martiniere College of Lucknow.

La Martiniere college - an offbeat Lucknow attraction
La Martiniere college – an offbeat Lucknow attraction

You might be wondering why would you add an educational institute. The answer lies in the fact that it was not always a school. It was actually a luxurious mansion owned by a French officer. The sprawling home is also, considered as the largest European Funerary in India. And to add some more intrigue to this place – it is the only school ever to win the Royal Battle Honors. If that has made your eyebrows vanish into your hair, then you are ready for this epic post on this offbeat Lucknow attraction!

History of La Martiniere

“What is La Martiniere? A home? A School? Or a Battle House? “ I would not be surprised if you are asking this after reading the first few paragraphs. Let me demystify this for you with its history.

The founder and owner of La Martiniere College
The founder and owner of La Martiniere College

La Martiniere was built by a French man – Major General Claude Martin. This French gentleman came to India along with the French company in Pondicherry. He fell out of service owing to a tyrannical head and joined the British East India Company. He was posted in Lucknow during the reign of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daullah of the Bara Imambara fame. He earned a lot of wealth while serving the Nawab – so much that he became the richest Frenchman in India. With his wealth, he created this palatial home called Constantia.

The Sprawling Mansion - Constantia
The Sprawling Mansion – Constantia

The Major General was the perfect eligible bachelor and he died so, leaving behind no heirs. However, he did make a Will – in which he specified the following –

  • All his properties in India (in Kolkata and Lucknow) and in Lyon (his hometown in France) were to be converted to schools for children. The schools would be named La Martiniere.
  • His body would have to be buried after it was embalmed. This grave would lie in the basement of his Lucknow home – Constantia
  • His house should also, accommodate centers for boys who were keen on learning the English language and the religion – Christianity.

Eventually, after a few contests in the court, all his properties became the La Martiniere School. In Lucknow, it was primarily the Boys school which opened in the year 1845 with John Newmarch as the first principal. Thus, the mansion became a school.

La Martiniere in its hey days
La Martiniere in its hey days

During the famous siege of 1857, the school students were drafted to the British quarters – The Residency. The students helped the British with various chores like becoming messengers, taking care of the sick and injured and even gathering food. After the siege, for sometime, the school was shifted to Benaras. The campus was restored and the school was back by 1859.

A complete residential set-up of the British East India Company in Lucknow, The Residency had everything set withing – from beautiful ball rooms to a hospital and more. Unfortunately, the Revolt of 1857 just left the walls to share its story.

 

Tomb of Boulone Lise

It seemed liked a pretty normal high-class school from the gate. Kids playing football, a few rushing around looking all important. teaching staff keeping a stern eye out for truants and massive buildings around the open grounds. However, a few steps towards those buildings changed it all. A beautiful green tomb stared back at me.

Tomb of Boulone Lise
Tomb of Boulone Lise

The tomb belongs to the lady companion of Major General Claude Martin. Boulone Lise was the daughter of Nawab Fazal Khan Bahadur. She was around 9 years old when she entered the household in 1775. She was referred to as Gori Bibi – meaning Fair Mistress. In his will, Major General provided for her and left instructions on getting a tomb built in La Martiniere after her death. (1844)

The Islamic architecture was pretty evident even before I read the plaque. In fact, if truth be told, I was confused as to why there was one in an evidently Christian campus. That is where the plaque came to my rescue. There wasn’t much within the tomb to see but if you know me, I had to satisfy myself with a quick walk around.

Grave of William Hudson in La Martiniere, Lucknow
Grave of William Hudson in La Martiniere, Lucknow

With that done, I continued on to see one more grave – albeit – this was a British one belonging to a Major William Hudson who died in the year 1858. He was the one responsible for killing Bahadur Shah Zafar in New Delhi along with his family. Jean Claude’s will definitely did not include him as a part of his bequeathed space. My guess is that since he was stationed here during the 1857 revolt, he was buried in the campus. As I understand, there were more of such tombs a little away from my chosen path. Given the constraint of time, I chose to move ahead to the main building of La Martiniere.

Heading to Constantia House

The Horse Stahle at La Martiniere College
The Horse Stahle at La Martiniere College

It was evident that the School had a rich and elegant culture which included rare activities like Horse Riding. Passing by the horse stables, I also, got a glimpse of a unique car that seemed to have all the house emblems painted on them.

Classrooms at La Martiniere College in Lucknow
Classrooms at La Martiniere College in Lucknow

Curious student onlookers pretended to not notice me as I quickly snapped a picture of their pretty classrooms around a quaint spiral staircase. Not wanting to disturb the regular schedule, I made my way to a large park that caused my jaws to drop!

The first glimpse of Constantia

The front facade of Constantia at La Martiniere Lucknow
The front facade of Constantia at La Martiniere Lucknow

One glimpse at what stood erect in those perfectly manicured lawns transported me to Europe – specifically, Vatican Museum. Somewhere in that I even felt as if I were in Mauritius in front of the Chateau Labourdonnais – possibly owing to the sprawling lawns. The grandeur of this French Mansion – the Constantia – was just mesmerizing.

An estate house set up by the French Sugar Lords in Mauritius, this one has a unique botanical garden attached to it. Made in the 1770s, there is so much history that you can still see.

 

Sculpted Roof of Constantia
Sculpted Roof of Constantia

The key feature of this Gothic colonial structure were the Greek statues atop its terrace. The figurines were the reason why my mind went back to Vatican. The style in which they were erected reminded me of St. Peter’s Basilica where the Roman Gods rose high up into the sky. Each statue represented a particular Greek idol – all of which was documented and explained in pictures.

The Greek statue of Niobe at Constantia of La Martiniere college
The Greek statue of Niobe at Constantia of La Martiniere college

For example, this one is that of Niobe – the mother who boasted to Leto about her fertility. As a punishment for this, all her sons and daughters were killed by Leto‘s twins – Apollo and Artemis. The statue here is that of her grieving her loss – a lesson to mortals who compare themselves to God.

Close of of the Greek sculptures atop the Constantia
Close of of the Greek sculptures atop the Constantia
Namean Lion sculpted on the roof of Constantia
Namean Lion sculpted on the roof of Constantia

Honestly, I could not get over these Greek statues. I had to force myself to move my eyes away to the rest of the structure. This is when I noticed the tall colonial pillars and the arched glass windows. The open doors beckoned me to explore within and that is exactly, what I did.

The Grave of Major General Claude Martin

Reception hall of the Constantia at La Martiniere
Reception hall of the Constantia at La Martiniere

A reception hall that reminded me of scenes from the Pride and Prejudice welcomed me to the folds of the Constantia. A sculpture of its founder – Claude Martin stood right in the center of a high-ceiling round room. Hanging on the walls were placards with names of the La Martiniere Alumini who served during the 2nd World War.

Tomb of Claude Martin in the basement vault of Constantia
Tomb of Claude Martin in the basement vault of Constantia

Through its many doors, a spiral staircase took me to a closed terrace. My guess is that was the way to get to those Greek statues. The same staircase took me down to a basement where the grave of the founder Major General was kept. A signboard told me that the Major General had died in 1800 at the Farhad Baksh Kothi in Lucknow, following renal failure. As per his wishes, his body was embalmed and kept in a grave as found here.

Grave of Claude Martin
Grave of Claude Martin

The grave currently, has been restored. It was damaged by the soldiers who occupied the Constantia during the 1857 revolt. The grave that I saw was not very elaborate and as I understood, contains a double coffin with the remains of Major General Claude Martin.

The Chapel of La Martiniere

The Chapel of La Martiniere
The Chapel of La Martiniere

If the exteriors had made my jaws dropped, the interiors of the house – now a Chapel threw me off-balance. It was Vatican all over again – with those gorgeous walls and ceilings interspersed with Bas-Reliefs made with POP. The original material and designs for this came from France. Take a look at the gorgeous corners of this section!

The Ceiling of the Chapel
The Ceiling of the Chapel
Close up of the Bas Reliefs
Close up of the Bas Reliefs
Another Bas relief along the doorway
Another Bas relief along the doorway
Pipe Organ in the Chapel of La Martiniere
Pipe Organ in the Chapel of La Martiniere

Every detail of those sculpted figurines was mind blowing. Add to that the play of colors in the stories etched on those stained glass windows. And then, there was that giant pipe organ. I could well imagine the La Martiniere Choir on a Christmas day!

The Lat, the bell & the cannon

Bell cast by Claude Martin at La Martiniere college
Bell cast by Claude Martin at La Martiniere college

The lower levels of the mansion were used during the Summer months while the upper levels were designed for used during monsoons. Since the site was close to River Gomti, it faced frequent flooding and thus, the need for higher levels. However, since they were now not available for a visit, I exited the chapel to come to three unique things.

Lord of Cornwallis Cannon at La Martiniere
Lord of Cornwallis Cannon at La Martiniere

The first was this huge bell that was cast by the founder of the house himself. The 2nd was a grand cannon called the Lord of Cornwallis and was cast again, by Claude Martin. The cannon’s claim to fame was that it was lent to the British company for their war in Srirangapatnam against the famous Tipu Sultan. After the same, it was returned to its founder as a memorial.

The Lat  -a mysterious Obelisk at La Martiniere
The Lat -a mysterious Obelisk at La Martiniere

The last and the most prominent was this huge watch tower or Obelisk. Now here is the curious part – it was built after the death of Claude Martin. The original design given by him in his will was altered a bit to include some very intriguing features. The original purpose of the Lat was supposedly to be a memorial of the Constantia. Some say that it was to indicate the estate for those using the river as a means of approach.

What is curious is that the Lat while on the exterior seems to be quite like the design suggested by Claude Martin but an X’ray of the inside show a staircase. Hidden within are some pulley systems whose purpose is unknown. And what is even more mysterious is that there are rumors of underground connectivity to the Constantia. šŸ˜‰

Panorama of the La Martiniere College from the Lat
Panorama of the La Martiniere College from the Lat

And on that mysterious note, I conclude this tour of La Martiniere. The rest of the structures in the campus were built after the mansion was turned into a school. The side wings in a semi circular structure contain dormitories and classrooms which on a normal working day are out-of-bounds for the visitors. Frankly, I am sure that would not matter to you for it is the Constantia that would be of major interest – isn’t it?

So, have you added this to your list of places to visit in Lucknow? Here is a pin to help you do so!

How to get to Lucknow?

  • Lucknow has good connectivity by air, rail and road. In fact, it has an international airport with plenty of flights to Lucknow from various cities across the world.
  • Once in Lucknow, you can hire an Uber or take a bus to La Martiniere College. Click here to get it on your mobile map.

Where to stay in Lucknow?

  • Lucknow being a major city, offers you plenty of hotels and stay options in every possible budget. You can book a Lucknow hotel through any of the well known websites.
  • In terms of area, I highly recommend staying in Gomtinagar as it is quite central to most places of interest in Lucknow.

Travel Tips

  • There is no entrance ticket to the La Martiniere College. You can visit it anytime between 9 am to 12:30 pm.
  • Please note that while you can always get there on your own, it is better to join a walking tour or a private tour to La Martiniere. This will give you a better insight to the place.
  • The place is a functional school. Please be cognizant of the same and avoid disturbing the students and its faculty.
  • Photography is permitted in the school.

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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10 Responses

  1. Mohammad Haider

    One of the most wonderful travelogues everā€¦ Lamartiniere is by far one of the most beautifully conserved ā€œliveā€ monument of our country and its conservation can be attributed to none but the visionary, able and brilliant Principal Carlyle McFarland whose devotion, commitment and passion for details ensured a complete turn around of this masterpieceā€¦.. A must visit by anyone who loves history, heritage and cultureā€¦

    • Ami

      Thank you Mohammed. I am glad that you enjoyed the article. It was such a pleasure to have visited it myself

  2. Anindya S Basu

    Loved reading this and more so because 1. I have had my office in a building called Constantia building in KOlkata which was adjacent to La Marts Girls. In Kolkata La Marts girls and boys school are situated opposite to each other and after reading your post I realised the history of the buildings. Great One Ami

    • Ami

      Thank you Anindya. I loved discovering it myself and photographing it ….that was the best part. I must now see the Kolkata one. Would be nice to do a comparison

  3. Adamya Mishra

    I know the true value of this place…
    I feel so lucky being a student of this prestigious school

    • Ami

      It is a gorgeous and historic place. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your connection with the place

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