At a glance, it’s just an abandoned brick structure lost in the thickets. But a closer look will reveal the distinct architectural features of the once majestic edifice.
Located near Kollam Station where weeds vie for more territory, Cheena Kottaram, 117, has been in disrepair for decades. Built in 1904 by Sri Mulam Tirunal Rama Varma, the ruler of old Travancore, the building was also called Railway Palace as the royal family stayed there during transit.
At that time, Quilon-Sengottai was the only railway line connecting Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the king boarded the train from Kollam. Over the years, the line has been extended to Thiruvananthapuram ending royal visits and the building’s relevance. Later, the railway authorities used it as an office and storage space, gradually ruining the heritage structure.
According to experts, the property is an important part of Kerala railway history, as it was one of the first buildings to be put into service during the commissioning of the metric gauge line. The building has a unique Indo-Saracen architectural character with colorful glass panes and terracotta tiles. Although it is a one-story structure, its double height adds elegance and creates the illusion of a huge two-story building.
âThe style is Gothic with sloping roofs and exposed brickwork. The original roof was in the pagoda style and residents started to call it Cheena Kottaran (Chinese Palace) because of it, âsays Manoj Kumar Kini, urban architect and director of the Kerala State Institute of Design (KSID).
He adds that the building is not unrecoverable but that the railways, which own the property and neighboring buildings, seem less interested in restoring the structure. While most multi-level towers are missing today, the leaky tiles have been replaced with tin in total disregard of its heritage value.
Although the Kollam Corporation tried to intervene and entered into talks with the railway authorities, the case was not pursued. Cheena Kottaram has yet to be declared a monument by the state or the Center and Kollam MP NK Premachandran has said despite repeated calls authorities are unwilling to retain the property.
âWe have submitted a proposal to convert the structure into a heritage museum and the authorities have said they will look into the matter. If they approve it, the building can be kept as a museum showcasing the history of the railways and Kollam, âhe says.