Bangkok Post reviews
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: April 29, 2013 at 8:39 am
A new museum has opened up Parusakawan Palace to reveal an enchanting window to the past
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT
- The resting area on the second floor.
- HRH Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh’s royal emblem on the gates of Parusakawan Palace.
- The dining room.
- Chitralada Villa, Parusakawan Palace.
Princely drama and art nouveau blend exquisitely in Parusakawan Palace. Once the private abode of princes and a king, whose stories were characterised by romance, heartbreak and splendour, the palace is now open to the public as it houses the first police museum in the country. A visit to the palace is to marvel at one of Thailand's finest examples of architecture and an evocation of aristocratic nostalgia.
This is especially a dream come true for those fascinated by history and stories told in the books, Koet Wang Parusaka (Born At Parusakawan Palace) and Katya And The Prince Of Siam, two of the perennially favourite accounts of royal life. The books are historical records and rare specimens of royal diaries that have over the years become popular reads for commoners. Still, even for those who are unfamiliar with the books, an opportunity to visit one of Thailand's most beautiful art nouveau buildings is something that shouldn't be missed.
Parusakawan Palace is situated south of Dusit Palace on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue. It comprises two European-style royal mansions commissioned by King Rama V for two of his European-educated sons. Chitralada Villa on the north side was where Crown Prince Maha Vajiravudh stayed before his ascension to the throne as King Rama VI. Meanwhile, Parusakawan Villa on the south side was the residence of Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh, the King's 40th son. Later in the reign of King Rama VI, both villas were joined into one palace called Parusakawan. It now stands handsomely in a symmetrical "U" shape.
Pol Col Jiradul Sothiphan, curator of the Police Museum Parusakawan Palace, said the museum was officially opened on March 28 this year by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
"In 1930, the project to establish the police museum was planned when police were under the Police Department of the Interior Ministry. It has been continuously developed since the 1932 revolution when Khana Ratsadon used Parusakawan Palace as their headquarters. Later, the palace was transferred to the Royal Thai Police and finally turned into the museum," he said.
HRH Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh, Prince of Phitsanulok, lived in Parusakawan Palace with his Russian consort Mom Catherine and their son HRH Prince Chula Chakrabongse.
The museum, situated in the compound of the palace, is a new, modern two-storey building. It's divided into six zones and displays an exhibition of the evolution of Thai police, social and politically, since the 16th century
Take time to wander around and learn about the history and duties of Thai police officers. The exhibition traces the development of police work and police uniforms since the Ayutthaya period, as well as the progress of the Thai police force to the form that it is now, from the 1932 revolution that turned Siam from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
Another section tells of the work and responsibilities of each major police unit, such as the metropolitan police, traffic police and police commandos. In a bid to make the museum interactive, visitors can play with multimedia exhibits and even pose for pictures with life-size models of police officers in action.
One of the highlights is an interactive learning section in which visitors role-play a good citizen by compiling complaints to report to the police. Visitors have the chance to get into the simulated process of arresting and charging a suspect, and along the way practise our memory and observation skills by finding clues that will help police officers to work more efficiently. Another section is the display of various old weapons, gambling gear and illegal objects seized from suspects. The underworld appeal of these objects contrasts with the glorious structure that houses them.
Visitors can learn about the work of police from multimedia exhibits and pose for pictures with life-size models of police officers chasing suspects in theft, drug smuggling and other cases.
Besides the police museum, the public now have an unprecedented opportunity to visit Chitralada Villa, one part of Parusakawan Palace. It is a heritage building registered as a historic site by the Fine Arts Department.
Chitralada Villa (which is not to be confused with HM the King's Bangkok residence) is a two-storey building influenced by Italian architectural styles as, not surprisingly, it was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamango, who served the Public Works Department of Siam from 1903 to 1905. Completed in 1906, Chitralada Villa was decorated in art nouveau flourishes and a sprinkling of pre-modern baroque and rococo motifs. The top of each pillar is adorned with floral stucco. The villa's dining room, living room and bedroom are an enticing example of the early importation of European luxury into Siam.
But the physical beauty of Parusakawan is enhanced by the emotional history embedded in it. The palace played a backdrop to many romantic, sad and exciting stories of its royal residents. The most dramatic of all _ and perhaps one of the most dramatic of the catalogue of royal love stories throughout the world _ is the sweet and bitter romance of Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh, who once lived there with his Russian consort Mom Catherine (Ekaterina Desnitskaya) and their son Prince Chula Chakrabongse.
Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh married Mom Catherine while he was enrolled at a military academy in Russia. She returned to Siam with him but was initially rejected by most members of the royal family.
In his book, Koet Wangparusaka, Prince Chula Chakrabongse wrote that his parents could not go anywhere in Bangkok together, except after dark. His mother felt so sad and lonely, especially during celebrations that often took place in temples and mansions around theirs.
Prince Chula Chakrabongse, born in 1907, had no right to the line of succession to the throne due to his half-foreign bloodline. Then came the twist, as most love stories have. While Mom Catherine later spent about a year abroad to allow her poor health to improve, her husband fell in love with a princess named MC Chaovalit-opas Rabhibhat. When Mom Catherine returned, she decided to divorce him and leave Siam. After the death of the prince in 1920, the palace reverted to the Crown Property Bureau because the prince had never requested title deeds to the land. MC Chaovalit-opas later married another prince. Mom Catherine also remarried, to an American citizen.
The Police Museum Parusakawan Palace tells of the history and the development of police work and police uniforms since the Ayutthaya period, and the progress of the Thai police forces since the 1932 revolution.
Prince Chula Chakrabongse, who had been sent to England to further his studies, later graduated from University of Cambridge. He returned to Siam in October 1931 and stayed for five weeks.
When Khana Ratsadorn, aka the People's Party, seized power from King Rama VII on June 24, 1932, they turned the palace into a government office. The young prince, who was in England at the time, was never to live in his beloved palace again.
Although it has at times a painful past, Parusakawan Palace is still full of sweet memories and its former owner Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh's royal emblem, a club and a discus, is still on its walls and gates.
Prince Chula Chakrabongse wrote about his love for it in Koet Wangparusaka: ''I love Parus Palace so much that I cannot find any words to describe my feelings. It was not because it was a big luxury palace.
As a matter of fact, I love Parus Palace because it was my home _ where I was born and grew up. During my childhood there, I had as much happiness and fun as a child deserves.''
Situated on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, the Police Museum Parusakawan Palace is open Wed-Sun 10am-4pm and is closed on public holidays.
Admission is free. Call 02-282-5057. Photography is allowed.