Buildings in former French colony near Kolkata await revival

Ignoring the vegetation growing from the cracks of this crumbling building in the erstwhile French colony of Chandannagar, 50 km from Kolkata, French Ambassador Alexander Zeigler and West Bengal Heritage Commission Chairperson Shuvaprasanna unveiled the building’s historical significance. Set up in 1875, the two-storied building served as the registry office and court during the French rule in Chandannagar (or Chandernagore). Located next to Rani Ghat jetty on the banks of Hooghly, it is in ruins and awaits restoration. West Bengal Heritage Commission officials said even though the plaque has been unveiled, they weren’t sure from where the funds will be available for its restoration. “It is our goal to restore and conserve the glorious past of this historical town. You can all understand that an undertaking of this nature cannot be served by the limited funds of the West Bengal Heritage Commission alone. We need all the support and help from the French government, if they come forward,” Mr. Suvaprasanna said. Ambassador Zeigler said that a team of architects will be visiting the town and provide inputs on the restoration of the Registry Office Building, but made no commitment about funds. About a year ago, the French Consulate in Kolkata had said that they were mulling a model of financing the restoration of Registry Office Building through crowd funding, but the initiative did not work out and now both the State government and the consulate are looking at other ways to fund the building’s restoration. Danish tavern Barely 20 km downstream from Chandannagar is Sreerampore, where a 233-year-old Danish tavern was successfully restored in 2018. The restoration was jointly carried out by experts from Denmark and West Bengal government. Sreerampore was a former Danish colony, and Realdania, a private enterprise in Denmark, had contributed Rs. 5 crore for the restoration of the tavern, now an upscale eatery. Interestingly, the French ambassador Alexander Zeigler and Consul General Virginie Corteval paid a brief visit to the renovated tavern before unveiling plaques on heritage buildings in Chandannagar. Apart from the registry office, they also unveiled plaques at the Sacred Heart Church, a two-storied building designed in the Baroque style, and the Chandannagar College, a single-storey building constructed in 1862. Officials of the Heritage Commission said that all together 14 buildings in the erstwhile French Colony have been declared as heritage properties. These include the Liberty Gate, House of Harihat Sett, Rakshit Bhawan, Liberty Gate and both the English and French sections of the Kanailal Vidyamandir, Tristle Hostel, Clock Tower, Church of Sister Cluny and French Cemetery Cathedral. Conservation architect Aishwarya Tipnis, who has been working with the French Consulate for several years, had in 2010 compiled a list of 99 buildings in the town, both public and private, that needed restoration. “Over the past few years several attempts have been made both by the State government and the French Consulate centred around restoration of Indo-French heritage in Chandannnagar. However, not a single building has been restored for paucity of funds,” said Professor Antara Mukherjee, the author of the book Chandernagore mon amour: The Citadel of Moon .

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