The 606-year-old walled city of Ahmedabad, which was founded by emperor Ahmed Shah, has become India’s first World Heritage City. The World Heritage Committee (WHC) of UNESCO announced it on Twitter on Saturday after a meeting in Krakwo, Poland. “Thrilled to announce! Ahmedabad has just been declared India’s first #WorldHeritage city by @UNESCO,” tweeted Ruchira Kamboj, India’s permanent representative to UNESCO.
“For over 600 years, Ahmedabad has stood for peace, as a landmark city where Mahatma Gandhi began India’s freedom struggle. It has stood for unity with its elegant carvings in its Hindu and Jain temples as well as standing as one of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture and Hindu Muslim art. And beyond this, it epitomizes the United Nation’s objective of sustainable development as it accelerates in its development,” she said during Ahmedabad’s inscription.
Spread over 5.43 sq km, the walled city of Ahmedabad was preferred over Mumbai and Delhi during the nominations last year. With a population of 3.75 to 4 lakh, the city’s living heritage being the 600 odd ‘pols’ or neighbourhoods with clusters of centuries-old residences.
Ahmedabad’s nomination was supported by several countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Cuba and Poland. “The entire credit for this goes to the citizens of the city. It took us 20 years, and now I think the work has just started. We have become a national example and we have to make sure we stand by it. The government will also benefit from this and the old city will get better. People will now show interest in preserving their properties in the old city,” said Debashish Nayak, director of the Centre for Heritage Management at Ahmedabad University, who had launched the first heritage walk in the walled city.
“It started as a small step in 1996 when we started the heritage cell. Since then we have people dedicated to heritage management… We will now have to ensure that we perfectly maintain the 2,600 odd heritage sites in the city,” Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad Mukesh Kumar said.
In June this year, members of the WHC had visited Ahmedabad and had informed the Central government that it has deferred Ahmedabad’s world heritage city nomination. In a detailed note, the WHC had stated that it was not satisfied with the documentation related to the “outstanding universal values” for Ahmedabad’s walled city, referring to the city’s urban fabric, spaces, and buildings.
Welcoming the decision, architect and conservation specialist Rajdeep Routh said: “We have to make sure that we do not take this tag for granted. We have to set an example for the rest of the country as professionals, citizens and stakeholders. This status would also mean a sharp rise in property prices in the old city. I have observed the rise in price in the last five years, but now it will start shooting up.”
Jigna Desai, assistant professor at Cept University credited the status to Rabindra Vasavada, a retired professor of Cept University, who and his team took six years to put together the dossier for the walled city. Builder-turned-conservation expert Rajiv Patel, who has restored three havelis in the walled city, said, “This will give a boost to tourism. All the missing policies will fall in place to ensure that properties are restored and taken care of… We will have demarked areas in the city and problems like traffic will have to be resolved.”