It stands inconspicuous, unnoticed by most visitors. Ever-changing crowds shuffle in and out of the imposing Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall or the harmonious successions of Thai roofs crowning the Marble Temple. They pass by the straw yellow low-rise also entrenched behind the high gates and walls of the Suan Dusit compound, perhaps unconsciously, or maybe out of caution.
Wang Parutsakawan, meaning “the Palace of Marian Plums,” looks so quiet it might seem vacant, if not inaccessible. A traveller would be justified in feeling guarded at first — brave is the soul who ventures inside a building belonging to the Royal Thai Police just for the sake of looking at it; however, this early twentieth-century building is an architectural jewel.
An exquisite structure built with perfect proportions, the palace consists of two grand mansions. They were built for Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, the Prince of Phitsanulok, a son of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V. The gate of the main mansion still bears the royal coat of arms of the Chakrabongse family, but the property has been long deserted by this princely family.
The palace has had a curious destiny. By 1919, no longer serving as a residence, it became the Siamese Prime Minister’s office. Later, it was handed over to the Police Department and turned into the headquarters of the National Intelligence Services. During times of unrest, the palace was bombarded by protestors or blockaded by officials, its importance to society clearly etched into history. Today, like a butterfly leaving its cocoon, Parutsakawan Wang has been transformed into the striking home of the National Police Museum (the building remains a part of police headquarters). Open to the public, its status is further cemented in the Thai collective memory with each passing year.
Italian architect Mario Tamagno designed the main palace for Prince Bhuvanath, who had a great fondness for Europe, having studied in England and Russia, to reflect his modern tastes. At that time, Art Nouveau was sweeping through Europe, its tenets proclaiming art to be a way of life. And so the palace integrates Italy’s most identifiable artistic style into everyday objects. Most iconic are the verandahs and green pediments over the windows, designed with floral motifs adhering to Art Nouveau’s allencompassing traditions. All doors — even the details on balconies — embrace the style of the times.
While the external façade exudes Art Nouveau, its rooms are more evocative of grand Baroque aesthetics. Heavy chandeliers; large mirrors; stucco friezes; frescoes underlined by shades of purple, green, orange, and yellow — the fixtures practically transport visitors from Bangkok to Vienna or Milan.
On the ground floor, a video details the history and architecture of the palace, providing information about the neighbouring facilities in the complex, including the second mansion within the compounds that, while visible, remains closed to the public. The Police Museum contains a wealth of interesting facts and figures. On display are old uniforms and documents. Inside is a replica of an old prison cell, behind whose bars visitors seem to love taking photographs. All in good fun, as they say.
323 Si Ayutthaya Rd, Dusit | 0 2282 5057 | policemuseum.police.go.th Wed-Sun, 10am-4pm | Free admission, photography allowed