The Napier Museum is set in the heart of Trivandrum city amidst a sprawling biological garden resplendent with numerous majestic flowering trees and rolling lawns. Adjoining it is the grand zoological garden, the Sree Chithra Art Gallery as well as the marvellous Natural History Museum, one of the best of its kind.
In 1872, Lord Napier, the then Governor of Madras, commissioned R.F. Chisholm to design a museum for the state, using the native style of building. Interestingly, Chisholm was then put in the incongruous position of explaining to the local officials to foster their own native style of architecture as against European styles.
In 1880, the building was finally ready for use and was opened to the public by Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja. Today it has become a city landmark located atop a hill and is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. This form of architecture draws inspiration from Indo-Islamic and native Indian architecture in combination with Gothic and Neo-classical styles.
The museum consists of three big halls interconnected by long corridors and artistically painted inner and outer walls. It creates a fine vision with its sloping roofs, intricately carved gables as well as bay windows supports by six finely-crafted mythical beasts. These typically Kerala elements are intertwined with multi-foliated, pointed arches and stained glass windows. The corners of this building are given further elegance with the use of stone bricks to create a geometric pattern. The rest of the building is built with regular type baked clay bricks.
The contents of the museum itself are another source of inspiration and there are about 550 carefully preserved ancient artefacts made of bronze, ivory, wood and stone available here – both from indigenous as well as foreign lands.
The Napier museum has a rich collection of 5480 antique coins from the Satvahana, Chera, Chola and Vijayanagar dynasties. An interesting collection of coins from Rome, Persia, Turkey, China, Denmark and Netherlands is also on display.
The ancient wooden collection includes a wooden temple chariot, a royal dressing table as well as numerous sculptures and carvings. There are numerous beautiful images in bronze too of Hindu deities in their various forms. Occasionally, these images are also seen sculptured in other materials like ivory and copper.
Exquisite stone sculptures from the various dynastic eras in south India are also displayed here. They are mostly representations of temple sculptures dating back to the 8th century AD when the stone was the most preferred material. Other artefacts of interest include pre-historic burial urns, replicas of Harappan Civilization, the sword of Velu Thampi Dalawa and some royal collectables.