Tiretta Bazaar, Kolkata’s old Chinatown, on World Monuments Watch list

KOLKATA: World Monuments Fund (WMF) on Wednesday announced that Tiretta Bazaar - the old Chinatown in central Kolkata - has been named among the 2022 World Monuments Watch, a selection of 25 heritage sites of worldwide significance whose preservation is urgent and vital to the communities surrounding them.

This listing, the second in Kolkata after the Dalhousie Square in 2005, can catalyse conservation and rejuvenation efforts in the country's oldest Chinatown where the neighbourhood had begun taking on a Chinese identity in the mid-18th century as Chinese sailors on the India-China trade routes started to settle in the area, bringing their own traditions, rituals and architectural styles. However, large-scale migration of Chinese in the 1980s and 1990s has seen the closure of Chinese shops and establishments and the population declining from almost 6,000-plus to barely 1,250 now.

"Tiretta Bazaar is testimony to the pluralistic society that flourished in central Kolkata since the Raj era. Though a pale reflection of what it used to be, the neighbourhood still represents a distinct community that retains its cultural and ethnic identity within the city. However, the community is marginalized and its heritage at risk. The neighbourhood suffers from a lack of recognition and basic services, such as reliable trash collection. Adjacent development encroaches upon the historic neighbourhood and threatens its existence," said Sohini Pyne, conservation architect who prepared the nomination for the site.
The 2022 Watch advocates for the significance of Tiretta Bazaar and for the Chinese community that made it a thriving commercial and cultural centre. While individual temples are recognized and protected, recognition as an historic district will safeguard the entire neighbourhood and draw attention to the need for better services.
"The shared history, unique architectural style, socio-cultural continuity in traditions are opportunities that can be harnessed to boost the local economy of the neighbourhood through cultural tourism as well as instil an increased sense of pride in the under-represented, dwindling community of the Kolkata Chinese," explained Pyne.

The dossier prepared by Pyne took off from the Culture Heritage & Architecture (CHA) Project that INTACH had taken up in 2012-13 that also saw a study being prepared on the area's heritage and tourism potential. "A decade of awareness, documentation and advocacy for Cheenapara started by the CHA Project and taken forward by community members is now getting a further impetus. Hopefully now local authorities will shed their apathy towards the plan," said Kamalika Bose, principal conservation architect of CHA Project.

The Watch is announced every two years and includes heritage places nominated by individuals and community-based organizations. The programme has been a proven tool for raising awareness of sites in need of protection. To date, WMF has contributed more than $110 million toward projects at more than 300 Watch sites.

"Saving irreplaceable cultural heritage has never been more important," said Benedicte de Montlaur, president and CEO of WMF. "By supporting communities in preserving the places they treasure most, we can strengthen social bonds."

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