The town of Kota Bharu is definitely inseparable from its Balai Besar Palace. Indeed, both the city and the palace were even built simultaneously in 1844. Kota Bharu (New City) town was built by Sultan Muhammad II as the new capital and administrative centre, replacing Kota Lama (Old City).
The Balai Besar Palace was built by Sultan Muhammad II as a replacement to the Kota Lama Palace, the traditional residence for the previous Sultans of Kelantan. The palace was the official residence for several Sultans of Kelantan starting from Sultan Muhamad II (1839-1886), Sultan Ahmad (1886-1889), Sultan Muhammad III (1890-1891) and Sultan Muhammad IV.
Balai Besar Palace is also the venue of official and royal ceremonies from 1845 until today.
Upon its completion in 1845, the first ceremony held at the palace was the Istiadat Menyambut Surat Sejabat as recognition from the King of Siam to Sultan Muhamad II.
The letter of credence confirmed Tuan Long Senik bin Long Tan as the Sultan of Kelantan with the title of Sultan Muhammad II, recognised by the Supreme King of Siam who was the patron of Kelantan. Siam also gave Sultan Muhamad II the title 'Pia Lecha Kelantan'.
Throughout its tenure as residence of the Sultans of Kelantan, a few additions have been made at the Balai Besar Palace such as to the front and to the audience hall during the reign of Sultan Muhammad IV and Sultan Ismail. However, these renovations did not affect the original unique design of this palace.
Istana Balai Besar was built by Kelantan's most skilled craftsmen. It was headed by Muhamad Salleh, a carpenter from Terengganu who lived in Kampung Kangkong, in the province of Pasir Mas. He was the one and only person skilled in carpentry and wood carving at the time.
This two-storey palace was the venue for various royal ceremonies such as coronations and others. It also acts as an institution that preserves the sources of Malay customs. In the inner spaces of the palace lie the Royal Throne, Audience Hall and wedding dais.
Although the Istana Balai Besar is no longer a residential palace for the Sultans of Kelantan after Sultan Muhamad IV, the place is still used as the official palace for royal ceremonies and rites to this day.
Near the vicinity of Istana Balai Besar is an old building that is connected to the palace. The building is known as Rumah Membuat Bunga Emas (House of Gold Flower).The house was a place to make gold flower arrangement as tributes to the Government of Siam which is presented once in every three years as a symbol of friendship.