The Sultan Azlan Shah Gallery, a gallery with beautiful and interesting architecture was developed according to the standards of other international galleries. The gallery was born from the ideas of His Majesty the Sultan Azlan Shah Muhibbuddin with a reflection to opening the doors to the public into his life journey.
The Perak State Government Council sitting on 13th of June 2001 gave the greenlight into the development of Sultan Azlan Shah Gallery which is to be built on the site of Istana Ulu in Kuala Kangsar. The Public Works Department was appointed to oversee the development of the Gallery. Official work commenced on 30th November 2001 and was completed on the 15th of April 2003.
The Sultan Azlan Shah Gallery was reconstructed from the old Istana Ulu castle. Istana Ulu, also known by the name Istana Kota, is located in Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar, a short distance from the landmark Ubudiah Mosque . The castle was originally used as the residence for the 28th Sultan of Perak, Sultan Idris Mursyidul ‘Adzam Shah who reigned from 1887-1916.
The castle was first built in 1898 and completed in 1903. In 1916, Istana Ulu was inhabited by Almarhum Sultan Abdul Jalil the son of Sultan IdrisMursyidul 'Adzam Shah. After the death of Sultan Abdul Jalil in 1918, this palace was then taken over by the son of the late Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzuddin Shah , the 32nd Sultan of Perak who ruled from 1948 to 1963.
According to history, the center of the Perak Sultanate began in Tanah Abang in the year 1594. The 2nd Sultan of Perak, Sultan Mansur Shah I, moved the center to Kota Lama Kanan, about two miles through the Perak River from Kuala Kangsar. Kota Lama Kanan remained as the center of government until the reign of the 27th Sultan of Perak.
When Sultan Idris was installed, he transferred the ruling center from Sayong to Bukit Chandan. He built a palace near the BatangHari which is known as Istana Negara (National Palace) in 1895. Rapid progress took place around Bukit Chandan area where he had later simultaneously built two castles known as the Istana Ulu (Upper Castle) and the Istana Hilir (Lower Castle), with the former being used as his residence.
Istana Ulu has a close relationship with the starting of the ruling center shift from Sayong to Bukit Chandan. Istana Ulu was also known as the Istana Cinta Berahi (Palace of Erotic Love), Istana Cempaka Sari or Istana Kota (City Palace). The palace was designed by Captain Maurice Alexander Cameron who was the Deputy Chief Engineer and the Colonial Straits Chief Sculptor at the time. The roofs carried the influence from Aceh with the use of pyramid-shaped roof, while the influence of Indian architecture was found in the dome on the two tower buildings.
The wood carvings found in the palace was the work of King Harun Al-Rashid, who was a famous sculptor at the time. He took inspiration from the natural plants around the palace. Rock carvings were made by the craftsmen according to the instructions and consent from Sultan Idris 1 to ensure that there are no carvings that are against the teachings of Islam, wether in the shape of animals or statues.
The layout and concept of the spaces available in the palace is based on His Majesty's inspiration. The architecture design of this palace has common features with those from the Istana Negara (National Palace), the Ipoh High Court and Ipoh Railway Station.
Most of the building materials for Istana Ulu was brought from overseas. The roofs were imported from France and the tiles were taken in from Italy and the copper dome were from India. However, many local materials were also used such as the roof trusses (made of cengal wood) and the wood carvings (made from the finest meranti wood).
Trade vessels passing through the waters of the Perak River was used to ship the building materials for the construction, while elephants were used to transport local materials.
Istana Ulu is surrounded with walls built around the palace, a feature so prominent that the castle was also known as Istana Kota (City Palace). On top of those walls, beautiful frangipani-shaped patterns was carved on iron filigrees.
The grandeur and magnificence of the palace was drawn with the fine arts and continues to stand firm even it was erected a century ago. Construction of this building has strengthen the lineage of the Perak Sultanate heritage.