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November 16, 2017

7 Restored Indian Heritage Structures Have Been Recognised By UNESCO This November

Text by Ranjabati Das

An international panel of conservation experts cherry-picked a total of 16 projects from six countries in the Asia-Pacific, out of which 7 are in India, and 4 in Mumbai

Seven sites in India were felicitated by UNESCO earlier this month, out of which four are in aamchi Mumbai. The award for merit was given to three historical sites while four others received honourable mentions at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. A total of 16 projects from six countries – Australia, China, Iran, New Zealand, Singapore, and India – were recognised by an international panel of conservation experts, which means that the most number of sites on the list are of Indian heritage. The criteria for selection include the articulation of the spirit of the place, technical achievement, the project’s contribution to the surrounding environment as well as the cultural and historical continuity of the local community. The award seeks to honour the work of individuals and organisations to restore, adapt and conserve structures of heritage and cultural value, with a view to acknowledge and encourage public-private collaborations in the region.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple

Where: Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu

Age: About 1,200 years

Bite of history: If we have managed to pique your interest, and you want to know more, worry not – just download the mobile app Pinakin (available for Android and Apple users) to avail of an audio guide (in English or Tamil) that boasts a wealth of knowledge — about the temple and its rich history as well as the islet Srirangam sandwiched between the Cauvery and Coleroon rivers, where the temple is situated.

Trivia: Remember when a three-member team from UNESCO inspected the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in May this year? Their main motive was to ascertain the state of renovations and ensure that the heritage value is protected in temples across the state. Spending nearly three hours at the sprawling temple complex, the team inspected the ongoing as well as completed renovations. And it looks like they liked what they saw. The project has been lauded for the use of traditional methods in renovating temple structures and the re-establishment of rainwater harvesting systems.

Byculla Christ Church

Where: Mumbai, Maharashtra

Age: 184 years

Bite of history: Look out for the many tombstones – truly a window into an era gone by — glorifying colonial wartime heroes and administrators of the Company.

Trivia: This neoclassical structure in South Mumbai, incidentally the oldest church in Byculla, was restored in two phases. According to the UNESCO report, the church had suffered from earlier inappropriate repair works that diminished its cultural value — which is, unfortunately, the case with many fine historic buildings in India. Needless to add, such patch-up jobs are the cause of the structures falling into much despair. The restoration revealed elegant interiors adorned with gilded columns, stained-glass windows, and the lath and plaster ceiling. The brainchild of Mountstuart Elphinstone – erstwhile governor of Mumbai after whom Elphinstone College is named – was devised as a result of the educator-administrator-diplomat wanting to move away from Fort and towards Parel and Dadar, which had been emerging as ‘It’ areas back in the day. With Lower Parel taking over as the new hub for music and food in the present day, are we witnessing history being repeated?

Royal Opera House

Where: Mumbai, Maharashtra

Age: 106 years

Bite of history: Inaugurated in 1911 by King George V, the space morphed into a cinema in later years, before shutting in the ’90s. It reopened after 23 years last year and, intent on becoming a new cultural hotspot in the city, recently welcomed into its fold The Quarter, comprising four distinct spaces: a live music venue, where Grammy award winner Tinariwen and the likes of Parekh & Singh have already made an appearance, a cocktail bar, an all-day cafe and an al-fresco restaurant. Roll up your sleeves and dig into the spectrum of events on view here – from recitals and documentaries to workshops and walks.

Trivia: Owned by the royal family of Gondal since 1952, the only surviving opera house in India was lying defunct for many years before heritage conservationist Abha Narain Lambah took it under her wing. The century-old building – that was once turned into a cinema, perhaps to keep up with the times, evolving taste and technology – is another striking example of how a series of unsympathetic renovations can throw a structure into the throes of abandonment and devastation. The project has been lauded for the outstanding technical proficiency displayed in overcoming severe structural distress and restoring decorative, and acoustic, features. This one’s another South Mumbai gem that’s really stood the test of time.

Honourable Mentions

Bomonjee Hormarjee Wadia Fountain and Clock Tower

Where: Mumbai

Age: 135 years

Bite of history: The tower was erected to honour the late Bomonjee Hormarjee Wadia, a Parsi, who has donned the hats of Justice of Peace, trustee of the Mumbai Parsi Punchayet and Sheriff of Mumbai.

Trivia: Vikas Dilawari, who restored Byculla Christ Church, has worked his magic here too. This one, again in South Mumbai, is the result of a pioneering public-private partnership. It is designed by the great Rienzi Walton, to who we owe some of the most beautiful buildings of the period. It was vandalized last year when even the hands of the clock were stolen. Thankfully, it has been restored to its former glory, at a cost of 65 lakh. The very picture of Parsi pride, it now houses a working clock to boot. But, even today, time does stand still when you’re standing in front of the tower….

Gateways of Gohad Fort

Where: Gohad, Madhya Pradesh

Age: About 600 years

Bite of history: The fort has seven gates named after the villages they face: Itayli (south), Barthara (west), Gohadi (northwest), Birkhari (northeast), Kathwan (east), Kharaua (southeast) and Saraswati (southwest).

Trivia: The conservation of Hathai Paur (Elephant Gate) and Sankal Darwaja (Chain Gate) has reinstated a significant feature of the 15th-century Gohad Fort. Still used by the locals, the partially collapsed gateways and arches, and deteriorated brick and stonework, had to be repaired, recreated and restored. You have lucked out if you’re a fan of history – this is the gateway to a lost world.

Haveli Dharampura

Where: Delhi

Age: 130 years

Bite of history: Spread over 500 square yards, the haveli in the heart of Old Delhi bears the distinctive style of late Mughal architecture.

Trivia: Now a luxe boutique hotel, the beautiful ornate architectural elements and the optimisation of the space is its USP. High-quality workmanship, the use of traditional materials, painstaking construction techniques, and sensitive modern interventions have ensured that this project stands tall as an inspiration to others.

Wellington Fountain

Where: Mumbai, India

Age: 152 years

Bite of history: Situated in the beautiful Fort locality of Mumbai, the historic fountain took only around 12 lakh for the transformation – with who else but Dilawari at the helm.

Trivia: Built to commemorate the visit of the Duke of Wellington, this two-tiered colonial-era beauty was constructed in 1865 at a cost of 12,000 rupees. Ever noticed the Latin inscriptions? They are achievements of the man it pays tribute to, a frequent traveller to Mumbai. Employing the rigorous methodology and scientific technology applied to the restoration of monumental buildings, the project has succeeded in preserving the city’s only functional water fountain by stripping away later additions.

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