By Eric Lim
Varadis Palace, tucked away from the busy Lan Luang Road in old Bangkok, was the former palace of Prince Damrong Rachanupab who has played a significant role in the development of modern Thailand.
Prince Damrong Rachanupab (1862 – 1943) was the son of King Mongkut (King Rama IV) and the younger half-brother of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V).
Varadis (pronounced wa-ra-dit) Palace was designed and built in 1911 by German architect Karl Dohring and bestowed upon Prince Damrong in recognition of his services to the nation.
In his career, Prince Damrong had many achievements to his credit. He was:
He was instrumental in helping King Chulalongkorn revamp the archaic Thai civil service and education system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1962, Prince Damrong Rachanupab was awarded the UNESCO award of the World’s Outstanding Personality, the first for a Thai.
Varadis Palace was restored in 1996 on the 53rd anniversary of Prince Damrong’s death and converted to the Prince Damrong Rachanupab Museum and Library.
The palace is a quaint two-story building located deep within a lush well-kept garden. The spacious interior is partitioned into several rooms, each serving a different function. The décor downstairs is distinctly Chinese, complete with furniture, screens and Chinese deities on the altar.
On the wall of the sitting room hangs a certificate signed by then US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. The Legion of Merit was awarded to Col Sangkadis Diskul, Prince Damrong’s grandson, in 1961.
The second floor is similarly partitioned; of interest is the room with old military uniforms, sabers, revolvers, badges and insignias. Prince Damrong’s library and work area is up here in a room lined with bookshelves.
In 2003/04, Varadis Palace and Praracha Wang Derm in Thonburi (former palace of King Taksin of Thonburi) were Thailand’s entries to the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Conservation.
Praracha Wang Derm received the Award of Merit.
The other building within the palace grounds is the Prince Damrong Library. This three-story building has a collection of 7,000 books in English and Thai. The collection includes biographies of Queen Victoria, Napoleon, General Botha and old editions of Punch, National Geographic and the Imperial Gazettes of India.
Other books in the library cover history of empires, civilizations, revolutions, politics, travels and a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Wee Willie Winkle! The library is in the process of digitizing the books to put the contents online.
Prince Damrong’s love for books was not confined to reading; he was also an avid writer on Thai history, literature and culture.
It was in Varadis Palace that Prince Damrong was arrested during the 24 June 1932 coup the coup that changed the course of Thai history. It was here that he died on 1 December 1943, doing what he loved, writing.
Varadis Palace preserves the legacy of a prince who lived through a momentous period in Thai history and has contributed tremendously to it.
Today, the former royal palace is a family trust administered by the descendants of Prince Damrong. The present curator, M L Panadda Diskul, is the great-grandson of the prince.
Another palace in which Karl Dohring had a part in designing was the Bank of Thailand Museum in Bang Khun Prom Palace.
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