Why Jaipur’s King Painted His City Pink to Impress the Prince of Wales

Andrea Moroni, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Andrea Moroni, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If a member of the royal family were coming to your home, you’d probably spruce it up a bit—maybe rearrange the furniture and plop some peonies into a vase. The king of Jaipur, however, went above and beyond what's expected of a host.

In an effort to impress the Prince of Wales ahead of his state visit in 1876, it is widely believed that the king had the entire city painted pink.

A row of pink buildings in Jaipur
iStock

The gate leading into the Pink City
iStock

Nestled in the state of Rajasthan in northern India, Jaipur is about a one-hour flight from New Delhi. Today, this popular tourist site is affectionately known as the “Pink City,” but its streets weren’t always so rosy. Prior to a state visit from Prince Albert Edward—the eldest son of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert—Jaipur’s buildings were either white or a “sallow yellow,” according to The Rough Guide to India.

In hopes of dazzling his royal counterpart, the reigning maharaja (“great king”) of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh II, decided to undertake something of a remodeling project. He ordered all buildings in the city to be painted the same shade of pink—a color that symbolizes hospitality. At the urging of his favorite wife, the maharaja took it one step further and passed a law in 1877 making it illegal for buildings in the old city to be painted any color other than "Jaipur pink." This law still remains in effect today.

Ram Singh II, the Maharaja of Jaipur
Ram Singh II, the Maharaja of Jaipur
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A black and white photo of Jaipur from 1875
Taken in 1875, this photo shows a street leading to the City Palace in Jaipur.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

According to one account, the first person to call Jaipur the “Pink City” was writer Stanley Reed, a correspondent for The Times of India who wrote about the Prince of Wales’s royal visit.

The color more closely resembled a light maroon, but no one seemed to object to the city's new moniker. The pigment was brought in from Kanota, located about 10 miles away, and mines were also dug closer to Jaipur to extract the stone needed to make more pink paint.

As for the king's grand plan to impress his guests, it seems to have worked. Sir William Howard Russell, a reporter who accompanied the prince and chronicled the trip, remarked, “We passed through a gateway, and Jaipur lay before us, a surprise and wonder forever.”

A bit of flattery didn’t hurt, either. Sawai Ram Singh II, who understood the political advantage of getting in the prince’s good graces, erected the grand Albert Hall Museum in his name. The prince laid the first foundation stone during his visit.

The Albert Hall Museum
The Albert Hall Museum
iStock

While the Prince Albert Edward story is the most widely told tale of how Jaipur got its rosy complexion, there are other notable theories. Author and historian Giles Tillotson posits that Jaipur was painted pink prior to the 19th century in an attempt to emulate the buildings of Delhi and Agra, many of which were constructed from pinkish sandstone. However, he says that Jaipur’s paint was touched up for the prince’s visit—hence the confusion.

In his 2006 book Jaipur Nama: Tales from the Pink City, Tillotson also noted a time in the late 19th century when Jaipur almost abandoned the whole pink project entirely:

“On one occasion, in 1868, the then Maharaja, Ram Singh II, recklessly suggested that the wash might be varied a bit, with different quarters of the city being painted in different colors; but by 1870 this experiment was recognized as a hideous mistake and the pink was restored ... But underneath the range of acrylic powder pinks there are traces of the geru, or terracotta pink, which was indeed original.”

Jaipur received another “facelift” in 2000 ahead of then-president Bill Clinton’s visit. In addition to requiring stores to post their signs in black Hindi lettering on white backgrounds, the city restricted some roads to traffic—which at the time was “unheard of in India,” according to The Rough Guide to India.

While Jaipur is India’s only “Pink City,” it’s not the only monochromatic metropolis in the country. In Rajasthan, there’s the “Blue City” of Jodhpur, the “White City” of Udaipur, and the “Yellow City” of Jaisalmer. Further north, the “Green City” of Chandigarh, so called for its abundant vegetation, made a list of “52 places to go in 2018” curated by The New York Times.

10,000 People Gathered at Stonehenge to Welcome the Summer Solstice

Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of summer. Today, people visiting Stonehenge took that celebration to a whole new level.

The BBC reported that an estimated 10,000 people made the pilgrimage to the 5000-year-old site to partake in summer solstice festivities. "Stonehenge was built to align with the Sun, and to Neolithic people, the skies were arguably as important as the surrounding landscape," Susan Greaney, a senior historian at English Heritage, said in a statement. "At solstice we remember the changing daylight hours, but the changing seasons, the cycles of the Moon, and movements of the Sun are likely to have underpinned many practical spiritual aspects of Neolithic life."

These spiritual aspects are just one of the many fascinating facts about the summer solstice; the day is an extremely old calendar event recognized by ancient cultures across the globe. They include the Druids and other pagans, whose tradition of observing the solstice at Stonehenge has long been upheld by modern revelers.

Scientifically speaking, Stonehenge is an optimal viewing place for the solstice due to its structure. According to TIME, the site’s architects appeared to have kept both the summer and winter solstices in mind during its construction, as the positions of the stones are specifically tuned to complement the sky on both occasions.

The solstices were sacred to the pagans, whose modern-day followers continue to honor their rituals. Pagans in particular refer to the day as Litha, and mark it with activities such as meditation, fire rites, and outdoor yoga.

“What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest," Frank Somers, a member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, said in 2014. "It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life—life at its fullest."

Those who were unable to make the journey can head over to the Stonehenge Skyscape project's website, where English Heritage’s interactive live feed fully captured the experience.

Tourists Are Picking Apart Britain's Oldest Tree

Paul Hermans, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Fortingall Yew in the Fortingall churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland has seen a lot. Since it started growing at least 2000 years ago, it's been present for the Roman settlement of Scotland, the shift from paganism to Christianity, and the country's induction into the United Kingdom. But after standing for millennia, the ancient tree is facing its greatest threat yet. Tourists are removing twigs and branches from the tree to take home as souvenirs, and the tree is under so much stress that it's spontaneously changing sexes, Atlas Obscura reports.

Because of how the tree grows, it's hard to date the Fortingall Yew precisely. It comprises several separate trunks that have hollowed out over the years, making it easier for the tree to support itself in its old age. Based on historical measurements and 19th-century ring counts, the yew has been around for at least two millennia, but it could date back as far as 5000 years. That makes it the oldest tree in Britain and one of the oldest living things in Europe.

That impressive title means the tree gets a lot of visitors, not all of whom are concerned with extending its lifespan even longer. A stone and iron wall built in the Victorian era encloses the tree, but that hasn't stopped people from climbing over it to break off pieces or leave behind keepsakes like beads and ribbons.

As the abuse adds up, the tree has responded in concerning ways. It sprouted red berries this spring, a sign that the tree is transitioning to a different sex for the first time in its life. Yew trees are either male or female, and sex changes among the species are incredibly rare and misunderstood. Some botanists believe it's a reaction to stress. The change may be a survival mechanism intended to increase the specimen's chances of reproducing.

Scientists aren't sure why this particular yew, which was formerly male, sprouted berries on its upper branches, an exclusively female characteristic, but they've collected the berries to study them. The seeds from the berries will be preserved as part of a project to protect the genetic diversity of yew trees across the globe.

In the mean time, caretakers of the Fortingall Yew are imploring visitors to be respectful of the tree and keep their hands to themselves.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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