11 July 2024

Built nearly 130 years ago during the reign of King Rama IV, the Deva Manor, once the residence of Prince of Chantaburi is again brimming with life. This historical residence, once private, is now a haven for art and history enthusiasts.

Once the residence of Queen Sirikit’s ancestors, the Kitiyakara family, it was also a place where Kings Rama VI and Rama VII of Thailand (then Siam) enjoyed leisure time.

Prince Kitiyakara Voralaksana, the Kitiyakorn Patriarch //Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

The Grand Villa: A Royal Legacy

The two-storey Grand Villa was part of Deves Palace, the royal residence gifted to Prince Chanthaburi Naruenart by King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) in 1896.

Today, the Aniruth-deva family owns the property. After Phraya Aniruth-deva’s passing in 1951, the Grand Villa remained closed for 56 years.

Determined to preserve its grandeur and original artistry, his grandson, Col Fuangvich Aniruth-deva, embarked on a meticulous renovation project.

His goal, he explains, was to honor Prince Chanthaburi Naruenart’s legacy.

Col Present caretaker Fuangvich Aniruth-deva.//Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

“Anyone who appreciates the history and architecture of this villa is welcome,” Col. Fuangvich said during a recent tour, highlighting his commitment to public access.

Deva Manor, named after the family, is open daily. However, those seeking an in-depth exploration of the architecture and history are encouraged to visit on public holidays or pre-book a group tour.

Led by the owner himself on occasion, these tours offer a captivating narrative of the palace’s past, using artefacts, decor, and architecture to bring history to life.

The Colonial-style building reflects the era of King Rama V, when European influences permeated royal and public projects.

The Grand Villa at Night//Photo Courtesy of Deva Manor Facebook

Italian architect Carlo Allegri masterfully blended Thai and European styles. Allegri was renowned for his contributions to Siam, including bridges like Baan Norasingha (now the Government House) and Phan Phiphob Lila Bridge.

He also played a role in designing Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, one of King Rama V’s grandest architectural achievements.

The Italian influence is evident within the property. The second-floor living area boasts a showstopping stained-glass window from Milan, reminiscent of those seen in the Duomo cathedral.

A Second-Floor Bedroom//Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

“The original stained glass is still here,” Col. Fuangvich explains, “but some transparent sections have been replaced to maintain their beauty.”

A Glimpse into the Past

It’s easy to conjure up an image of figures from that era conversing in this light-filled, airy space, adorned with the stained-glass window resembling a European masterpiece flanked by Greek-style Ionic columns.

Col Fuangvich reminds visitors that the building predates the light bulb, inviting them to imagine the lives lived within these walls and the purpose behind such designs.

Gingerbread-style woodwork further enhances air circulation throughout the house.

The Grand Villa boasts 14 rooms. The ground floor houses a cafe, while the second floor offers a variety of bedrooms, each with a distinct style.

The octagonal bedroom at the back, once a guest room, overlooks the royal residence of the Kitiyakara clan, where Queen Sirikit spent her childhood.

The largest space is the Phra Samran room at the front, where guests were traditionally welcomed.

This grand function room served as a casual meeting or dining space for Thailand’s former kings.

Here, one can find chairs used by King Rama VI and tableware bearing the Phraya Aniruth-Deva emblem displayed on a large wooden table. The room boasts a view of the garden.

Phraya Aniruth-Deva emblem Tableware//Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

An interesting detail: the back staircase wasn’t part of Allegri’s original design. “King Rama V himself designed it,” Col Fuangvich says. “He felt the building needed something more.”

Garden with Antique Statues //Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

A Legacy of Art and History

Every corner of the Grand Villa tells a tale of Thai history. Paintings and photographs of prominent figures adorn the walls, alongside antique furniture reminiscent of the era heavily influenced by Western art following King Rama V’s European travels.

Grand Villa’s Antique Furniture.//Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

Notably, several priceless Thai artefacts are also housed within the villa. One such treasure, near the staircase, is a mirror featuring a unique design with two facing Naga heads at the top.

Another valuable possession is a set of “cosmetics” that belonged to HRH Somdetch Pra Piyamavadi Sri Bajarindra Mata, or Chao Chom Manda Piam (1839-1904), the mother of three of King Rama V’s queens.

Cosmetic set of Chao Chom Panda Piam.//Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

It is impossible to accurately evaluate the present value of this grand villa and all its artefacts. Col. Fuangvich has put a lot of effort into renovating and maintaining the villa and the stories inside the building.

That work took 12 years and only then did he decide to share this national treasure with the public.

In addition to the arduous work to honor the original owner, Col. Fuangvich hopes this property will inspire the new generation to learn more about art and history- a pride that everyone can share.

The cafe idea is like a gimmick. “In the old days, you would welcome guests with drinks and food. I think I can do the same for the house,” the owner said.

The cafe is not for commercial purposes but is something that draws the attention of the new generation to admire these gems.

After all, there is no entrance fee, and everyone is welcome to explore this private treasure.

The Grand Villa (Deva Manor) by Day//Photo Courtesy of Deva Manor Facebook

Visitors in Traditional Thai Dress//Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae

Deva Manor is located at 4, Krung-kasem Road, Phra Nakhon district, Bangkok. Explore Deva Manor on Facebook for updates, hours of operation, cafe details, and to inquire about group visits or the special tour/lecture

By Veena Thoopkrajae