The Danes are back: How a Bengal town is restoring its European legacy

#1 Dec 17th, 2017, 21:22
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Serampore, near Kolkata, was a Danish outpost for 90 years (1755-1845). The 210-year-old Lutheran St Olav Church’s restoration was completed in 2015. The project won the Unesco Heritage Award of Distinction in 2016. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

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From the white colonnaded verandah of the Denmark Tavern in Serampore, a sub-divisional town 35 km from Kolkata, the panorama is serene: a placid river Hooghly flows next to the late 18th century building, towards its final resting place, the Bay of Bengal. Even on a busy suburban weekday, the waterfront is usually quiet. These days, however, the peaceful atmosphere is often punctured by sounds of hammers, saws and drills, thanks to the restoration work going on in the building. The tavern’s renovation is not a stand-alone project; it is a part of a heritage restoration programme underway in the town, which was a Danish outpost for 90 years (1755-1845). The Danes had two other colonies in India: Tranquebar (now Tharangambadi in Tamil Nadu) and the Nicobar Islands.

Other than the tavern, several other Danish-era structures are being restored: The 12,000-square feet Danish Government House (DGH) and its two gates; Red Building (a British-era structure located inside the DGH campus), and the cast iron gate, fence and staircase of the Serampore College, which completes 200 years in 2018. The 210-year-old Lutheran St Olav’s Church’s restoration was completed in 2015.

“Tranquebar and Serampore were different kinds of outposts. The former was a port town; the sea gave it a carefree atmosphere. Serampore was a commercial and educational-missionary hub, and more urban. So its heritage has had to grapple with the challenges of an expanding town and burgeoning population,” says conservation architect Manish Chakraborti.

The DGH is located at one end of its 6.7-acre compound. The former residence of the Danish governors is an imposing colonial-style building, but not ornate. The middle part of the yellow and white house, which has an extended porch and six Ionic columns, juts out. A flight of steps will take you into the rooms. Under the Danes, DGH was the administrative headquarters. It continued to be so under the British and till 1990, the Bengal government too had its offices in the building. It was abandoned in 1990 after a fire. Today, the DGH campus, which houses the sub-divisional magistrate’s office, looks rundown. The compound is more or less barren, and doubles up as a parking lot. The town outside is dense, heavily built up, teeming with people and small businesses.
Hindustan Times

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