5 reasons to celebrate Ahmedabad as a World Heritage City

I woke up this morning to the news of Ahmedabad’s selection as India’s first World Heritage City by UNESCO. As an Indian, I felt so proud that we finally have a city that will be counted amidst the world’s 250 heritage cities – alongside Edinburgh, Cairo and Paris!

For the uninitiated, it is the same feeling when an Indian entry to the Oscars actually wins at the Academy! It’s the same because first there is elation and excitement and a slew of congratulatory WhatsApp messages which over the course of the day change into a debate about the choice for the official entry.

It is no secret that Ahmedabad ran over Delhi and Mumbai and then faced rejection at the global stage. In celebrating Ahmedabad’s win yesterday, it is equally important to acknowledge and celebrate the dedication of those who worked despite failing thrice – unbelievable, isn’t it? And if you’re still wondering “Why Ahmedabad…” here are 5 reasons to begin with!

5 reasons to Ahmedabad’s Selection as a World Heritage City

1. Ahmedabad’s journey to bag the world heritage tag began in 1984. The Ford Foundation carried out the first study for conserving heritage structures. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) set up a heritage cell and the city’s entry for UNESCO’s consideration was made on March 31, 2011.

Ahmedabad Heritage Walk Map by the Municipal Corporation-appointed HeritageCell.

2. The World Heritage City – tag comes because of a lot of criteria, but one being the city’s long standing history with trade and commerce.

For over two thousand years, Gujarat has been an important arena for trade and textile exports. The dominant commercial impulse promoted economic prosperity as well as a diversified culture, for trade contacts attracted people living outside the sub-continent- Arabs, Persians, Turks, Abyssinians and others. When Ahmed Shah established his Sultanate and eventually the city of Ahmedabad in 1411,  he encouraged merchants, weavers, and skilled craftsmen to settle down in Ahmedabad and turn it into a flourishing commercial city.

Interestingly, the culture of enterprise continues in Ahmedabad. Today some of the best, most sustainable craft enterprises of India are based out of the city.

Tab with a stylised flowering plant, rosette and vine.India, traded to Gujarat. AD 950 – 1500. Cotton, block printed with resist and dyed blue’ – Ashmolean Museum, Textiles Gallery label. Photograph: Ruth Clifford

3. Ahmedabad prospered under the Mughals, but with the disintegration of the Empire in the 18th century, the city plunged into chaos. The local chiefs ruled it jointly with the Marathas from 1733-1753. In 1757, it came under the sole control of the Marathas, before the British annexed it in 1817.  The city however, resisted European control and worked on development and reorganisation of the urban centre through their own means.

4. The connection between Gandhi, Ahmedabad and the Independence Movement is not unknown to anybody – but you can truly experience the spirit of simplicity, selflessness and pure thought if you live at the Sabarmati Ashram. I had the opportunity once owing to Manav Sadhna, and was totally taken by the ethos of the place. I wondered then, and I still do – if it was Gandhi who imbibed the spirit of peace from the city; or if the city moulded into his way of life. One would never know – though I would say it is a challenge to keep development, simplicity and globalisation in the same wheel of balance, and Ahmedabad really achieves this feat with grace.

5. Architectural Delight
Fusion of Ideas:
In every city, we have Islamic influences in art and architecture, European / Christian or Colonial buildings, or Hindu forts / palaces but it is rare to see architecture present a fusion of ideas and being so ahead of its times!
Jhulta Minara, Ahmedabad
Be it the mosques or Jain Temples, Stepwells or Pols – a confluence of cultures is evident everywhere. The mosques for instance, would have the Islamic arches, but the detailing and craftsmanship, largely Hindu or Jain for these were the artisans involved in the creation process.
Sidi Sayed Mosque (1571), Jumma Masjid (1424), Sarkhej Roja (1451) and Rani Roopmati Mosque (1434) are classic examples of this fusion of the austere Islamic principles of design with the traditional Hindu art of sculpted ornamentation.

What’s more important though, is the continued engagement of the city with these structures – not as mere tourist destinations or heritage-walk stops, but as living places that provide ample space for community engagement. Even now, during a cricket match, you’d see boys of the neighbourhood gather over a radio at a Stepwell. On a different floor of the same stepwell, it is usual for women to collect in the evenings for their daily gossip.

Pol-Architecture as Living Heritage

What stood out at the UNESCO Poland convening was Ahmedabad’s famous Pol-Architecture.  The Pols of Ahmedabad are considered as one of the finest creations, which are encased in heritage (with their gorgeous carved pillars and brackets and spectacular doors) and are simultaneously an example in environmentally-conscious, and sustainable neighbourhood living.
Pol-House Architecture | Pic Courtesy: Deepa (Magic Tours)
The pols are inhabited by people who haven’t altered the structure to suit modern-day convenience. These houses are a case-study in passive cooling strategies. The deep narrow courtyard houses attached in a row along longer edges with activities (kitchen space, resting space, etc) split on three floors make the best use of limited land resource.
The internal courtyard modulates sunlight while combating glare and filtering light. The courtyard has an underground water tank to harvest rainwater from the rooftops and provides enough water throughout the year to the families. And as you open the windows, it will provide you light, view and ventilation.
People have been living a comfortable life  in the Pols since over five centuries, and it doesn’t require air-conditioning at all. In addition, each house is a unique combination of hand-crafted yet mass produced building components such as column, brackets, windows, doors, railing and wall panelling.
Even the pigeons at the Chabutras (large bird-feeding/breeding towers) have reared generations without feeling the need to migrate – probably the most stable sense of belonging in pigeon-history.  Here’s a set of paintings by Edwin Lord Weeks (American artist)  illustrating the bird-house and the Pols during the time Ahmedabad was ruled by the Marathas.
pin: Ahmedabad world heritage city
#fact : To sell/mortgage a house one had to 1st offer it to Pol-members! #Ahmedabad #culture #WHC Click To Tweet

Today, Ahmedabad has some of the key business and financial institutions, educational ones, and is a hub for handmade. Built heritage aside, the city and its culture is truly what makes for a successful “Gujarat Model”.

Ahmed Shah once said about this city :

“Ahmedabad/Amadawar is a godly city and situated on a fair river enclosed with strong walls and fair gates with many beautiful turrets. The buildings comparable to any city in Asia and Africa, the streets larger and well paved, the trade great, the merchants rich, the artifices excellent for gold and silver” 
It could easily stand true for present times, isn’t it? That is probably what living heritage is all about.
If you’re looking to explore Ahmedabad soon, don’t miss :
The Kite Museum  (the second one of its kind in the world, the only other one being in Osaka)
Vechaar Museum (because food and the way we eat defines us)
Sabarmati Ashram ( for it is here that you’d truly experience the spirit of the city )

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